The World Trade Organization has rejected a U.S. appeal of its decision that country-of-origin labeling (COOL) on meat unfairly discriminates against meat imports and give the advantage to domestic meat products.
The final ruling launches a WTO process to determine the level of retaliatory tariffs Canada and Mexico can impose on the U.S., and the U.S. will have to revise or repeal the COOL law in order to avoid such sanctions. Opponents of COOL are hoping for a swift repeal, while proponents are saying it’s not yet time to act.
The WTO report released in October was the second time that body has ruled against the U.S. in the dispute. After passing mandatory COOL rules in 2008, the U.S. amended COOL in 2012 following an earlier WTO ruling against it.
Last November, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the 2014 National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention that there is no additional regulatory fix for COOL that would be consistent with U.S. law as it exists and would also satisfy the WTO.
Lawmakers have been calling for COOL to be repealed if it was found non-compliant since last summer. Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has said that “mandatory COOL for meat is a failed experiment which should be repealed.”
In a letter to Congress sent last fall, the COOL Reform Coalition wrote that U.S. industries would be expected to lose billions of dollars if retaliation is allowed.
“Given the negative impact on the U.S. manufacturing and agriculture economies, we respectfully submit that it would be intolerable for the United States to maintain, even briefly, a rule that has been deemed non-compliant by the WTO,” the letter read.
North American Meat Institute President and CEO Barry Carpenter said Monday that the latest ruling should lay any doubts to rest that COOL is a trade barrier, and he urged Congress to repeal COOL “once and for all.”
But Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, argued that “since the process is ongoing and we do not yet know the level of possible sanctions, if any, it is premature for Congress to intervene.”
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson also thinks there’s still a future for COOL on meat.
“As we have seen in other disputes, once decisions are handed down, WTO members often work together to find a solution that will work for them,” he said. “In this case, such a solution must involve continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labeling requirement.”
Johnson added that Congress might have a role to play in dealing with COOL “once the administration has worked with our trading partners following today’s decision if a statutory modification is deemed warranted by the administration, but the time for action is not now.”
Consumer groups such as Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety said that the WTO Appellate Body’s ruling violates consumers’ right to know where their food comes from.© Food Safety News