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WTO Rules Against Country-of-Origin Labeling on Meat in U.S.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico in an ongoing dispute with the United States over country-of-origin labeling (COOL) on meat.

The latest U.S. labeling rules, put into effect in 2013, require meat sold in grocery stores to indicate the country, or countries, where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

According to a WTO report released on Monday, the labeling rules unfairly discriminate against meat imports and give the advantage to domestic meat products. But the WTO compliance panel also found that the labels do provide U.S. consumers with information on the origin of their food, countering Canada and Mexico’s assertion that the labels do not serve their intended purpose.

Back in November 2013, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the WTO should have the final say on COOL, suggesting that the U.S. might give in to whatever the WTO compliance panel determined.

This is the second time the WTO has ruled against the U.S. in this dispute. After passing mandatory COOL rules in 2008, the U.S. amended COOL in 2012 following an earlier WTO ruling against them.

The Canadian cattle and hog industries say that COOL has cost them combined losses of more than $900 million USD. If the COOL rules persist, the Canadian government has threatened to place tariffs on U.S. meat imports, along with products such as wine, potatoes and orange juice.

The U.S. beef industry has strongly opposed COOL, while organizations representing consumers say that grocery shoppers deserve to know where their meat originates.

“COOL is a failed program that will soon cost not only the beef industry, but the entire U.S. economy, with no corresponding benefit to consumers or producers,” said Bob McCan, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, in a statement. “… We look forward to working with Congress to find a permanent solution to this issue, avoiding retaliation against not only beef, but a host of U.S. products.”

In a joint statement, the North American Meat Association and the American Meat Institute also lauded the WTO’s decision.

“USDA’s mandatory COOL rule is not only onerous and burdensome on livestock producers and meat packers and processors, it does not bring the U.S. into compliance with its WTO obligations,” the joint statement read. “By being out of compliance, the U.S. is subject to retaliation from Canada and Mexico that could cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.”

The consumer group Food & Water Watch called the ruling a threat to consumers’ right to know.

“The WTO’s continued assault against commonsense food labels is just another example of how corporate-controlled trade policy undermines the basic protections that U.S. consumers deserve,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter in a statement. “The United States should appeal the ruling and continue to fight for sensible consumer safeguards at the supermarket.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) also spoke out against the ruling and urged the Office of the U.S. Trade Representatives to appeal the ruling.

“Accurate information is essential in a competitive, free market and COOL provides consumers with essential information about the origin of their food,” DeLauro said in a statement. “If this ruling stands, U.S. ranchers will not be able to differentiate their products with a U.S. label and consumers will not have the information they need at the point of purchase.”

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representatives said that all options were being considered, including the possibility of appealing the ruling.

“A negotiated solution, not further litigation at the WTO, is the most realistic path to getting this issue resolved in the near term,” said a spokesperson for the office. “Allowing this case to wait for resolution in Geneva will only prolong the market uncertainty we’ve seen on all sides of this issue.”

© Food Safety News
  • heavyhanded

    The article states the US beef industry has opposed COOL but what should be stated is that there are only 4 beef packers that control 80% of the beef market that oppose this rule. This opposition is about their ability to co-mingle cattle that are purchased cheaper than prices paid for American beef, this is only a profit motive. The National Cattlemen’s Assoc.,the North America Meat Assoc., and the American Meat Association are mouthpieces for the Big Four packers. Their members are mostly cattle ranchers under contract to the same Big Four, as the beef industry is a monopoly. There are already countries such as Australia and New Zealand marketing and selling quality fresh beef and lamb under their countries label, and are well regarded by American consumers. Let Canada and Mexico market their own quality standards to American consumers and not hide behind a label forcing me to buy their beef without a choice. Last I knew Vilsack works for the USDA which means he works for the people of America not the WTO. COOL needs to stay as written to protect consumers and not increase profits of a monopoly.

    • ghayward

      Heavyhanded: You provide some very interesting backgroud on this issue I was not aware of.

      I have a question regarding your point about “co-mingling” of cattle. Are you saying US cattle producers are buying “foreign” cattle to add to their US bred cattle and this muddies the water regarding Country of Origin labeling? Thanks in advance for any clarification.

  • bill

    The public has the right to know, where the food come from.

  • Ranchster

    Guys – I do not believe your statement about the present COOL compliant label is correct. I think it has to include specific information in the 3 data fields – country of birth, raising and slaughter. Even with only three countries involved – US, Mexico and Canada – that is at least 9 different label combinations not including additional possibilities for the “raised” category. This simple math imposes substantial process modifications to simply track the meat – according to the eventual label through – the entire slaughter, processing and packaging pathways. The bigger problem is that the rest of the COOL rules impose massive documentation, record keeping and animal tracking requirements through the enter beef production chain – thousands of cow-calf operations, thousands of stocker operations, hundreds of feedlots and dozens of slaughter and processing operations. The major problem here is that almost of all of these requirements can be short circuited by doing one simple thing – don’t buy foreign cattle or beef. The COOL legislation which goes back many years to tariff laws is absolutely intended to provide American consumers with the ability to discriminate concerning the origin of the products they buy. The problem here is that we belong to the WTO and have an agreement about reducing trade barriers. The WTO is saying you cannot pick and choose which barriers you want to reduce. So the solution here maybe to drop out of the WTO and let the trade wars begin.

    • CharlaS

      The Trans-Pacific Partnership ‘free trade’ treaty that has been being negotiated in secrecy for several years will remove even more consumer protections, just as NAFTA did. Congress is getting ready to abdicate their Constitutional responsibility to negotiate trade agreements and give ‘fast-track’ Trade promotion Authority (TPA) to Obama to do all negotiations with NO INPUT from Congress. Expect more trashy substandard food from countries who do not have US standards of food quality.

      In a report last year entitled “NAFTA at 20,” Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch provided a primer on NAFTA’s enervating effect on the American economy. ” NAFTA created new privileges and protections for foreign investors that incentivized the offshoring of investment and jobs by eliminating many of the risks normally associated with moving production to low-wage countries. NAFTA allowed foreign investors to directly challenge before foreign tribunals, domestic [that is US] policies and actions, demanding government compensation for policies that they
      claimed undermined their expected future profits. NAFTA also contained chapters that required the three countries to limit regulation of services, such as trucking and banking; extend medicine patent monopolies; limit food and product safety standards and border inspection; and waive domestic procurement preferences, such as Buy American.” And now COOL can be added to that list of forbidden protections.

      • Eric Ryder

        Right. While Republicans continue to defund every government program they can find, including the FDA, so our USDA “quality” will end up being what you get in the third world – which is what the U.S. is becoming under the boot-heels of the greedy rich (and their corporations) and their bitches, the GOP.

  • Bigfoot

    1. Forget appealing this ruling. All appeals have been exhausted.
    2. Canada WILL retaliate against illegal protectionism. Repeal is the only answer.
    3. If you want to trade, do it fairly. Don’t bully your neighbors.
    4. You’ve had 6 years of illegal profits from your bad behaviour. Knock it off already.
    5. Imagine the chaos if this policy was extended to other products, like oil or sugar or corn.

  • Petra421

    This is just the 1st step towards the end of labeling of not only country of origin on meat, but on all foods & products… & a way to end GMO & ingredient labeling as well.

  • Keila

    I want my food labeled so I don’t get anything that was caught, produced, slaughtered, processed, or handled in China or other countries that lack our safety standards. Canada is fine. I love Canadian beef & fish. But I want COOL labels on all my foods to protect myself & my family. Fuck the WTO if they’re going to send me shrimp from Thailand or India without labeling it! Label that shit!

    • New Zealand has excellent beef too. But china ? I want the ability to choose what I eat. Greed and more then likely pay offs have driven this change in labeling laws.

  • Flying Blogger

    F the WTO. We want American products and are entitled to be discriminatory about what we eat.

  • SamIamTwo

    WTO s^cks and so do the fools representing the US taxpayers. JIMFHO

  • Rafael Marrero

    I CREATED A WHITE HOUSE PETITION TO ADDRESS THIS ISSUE PLEASE SIGN!!! GO THE THE WHITE HOUSE WEBSITE AND LOOK FOR PETITIONS IN REGARDS TO LABELING.