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European Union Expands COOL Requirements Beyond Beef

Almost a decade after the first country-of-origin labeling (COOL) of beef was required in Europe, no packaged unprocessed meat product may now be legally sold in any European Union member country without a label stating where the animal was reared and slaughtered. Europe’s new law, effective April 1, covers fresh, chilled and frozen meat from sheep, goats, pigs and poultry.

It has not gone unnoticed that the “bureaucrats from Brussels,” as EU administrators are often called, were able to extend the COOL regulations in Europe while similar American regulations have been subjected to continual court challenges and appeals to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

COOLabel_406x250For the third time since 2011, the amended U.S. COOL requirements for beef and pork products were found in violation of treaty obligations in October 2014. The U.S. has again appealed the unfavorable WTO ruling, with a decision expected in May.

The U.S. filed its latest appeal to the WTO decision last Nov. 28. Some see it as an exercise in futility. However, COOL was upheld by federal courts in the U.S., and Congress has so far declined to get involved.

Only the U.S. COOL regulations have been contested at the world body, according to the WTO’s case file.

While COOL has been a political issue in the U.S. since the 2002 Farm Bill, the challenges from Canada and Mexico quickened since the 2008 Farm Bill and USDA’s final rule.

Like Europe, the U.S. COOL statute defines multiple origins for muscle cuts of meat (not ground meat), depending on where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. This is pretty much in step with Europe, which defines “born, reared and slaughtered” as the origins that must be disclosed on the label.

The multiple definitions of “origin” are at the heart of the difficulty the U.S is having in squaring COOL with the WTO. According to a legal analysts by the law firm Mayer Brown, the WTO Appellate Body found the U.S. COOL regulations violate the Agreement of Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) because they accord less-than-favorable treatment to imported livestock than to like domestic livestock. This is all due to the need to keep records of verification and other bookkeeping records, which gives domestic livestock an advantage.

Additionally, the WTO ruled that the U.S. COOL regulations are not applied in an “even-handed manner.” USDA amended the regulations in hopes of complying with WTO, but Congress opted to make no changes in the actual law. When Canada and Mexico continued to press their claims, WTO found that the USDA changes actually increased the detrimental impacts to the challenging nations.

The new European COOL laws do not apply to processed meats. The European Parliament wants to further extend the EU’s COOL laws to call for mandatory labeling of meat used as an ingredient in processed foods. The British meat industry opposes going that far, saying that it would be too difficult and costly to impose. Survey research for the European Commission found 90 percent consumer support for labeling all meat products.

Both the 2011 E. coli O104 outbreak in Northern Europe, which did not involve meat, and the 2013 horse meat scandal are said to have increased support for these sort of COOL regulations in Europe.

© Food Safety News
  • Craig

    Both Canada and Mexico must prove that COOL has harmed their trade with the U.S. before they can implement retaliatory sanctions. That is going to be hard to do given the Auburn study that showed no harm from COOL, and the current high prices and high levels of exports to the U.S.