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After court loss: Cattlemen want Trump to make COOL part of the deal

Those independent cattle ranchers who mostly hold up in Billings, MT, won’t back down when it comes to country of origin labeling (COOL), which is also favored by many food safety advocates. A federal judge in Spokane just declined to bring back COOL for beef and pork, but the ranchers say there is still someone who they say can make beef and pork great again.

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, or R-CALF, has refocused its efforts on President Donald J. Trump, who is either renegotiating NAFTA or tearing it up in favor of new separate agreements with Canada and Mexico or perhaps both.

In all that trade action, R-CALF hopes Trump’s deal makers can move what they see as a troublesome report from the World Trade Organizatio. In 2015 the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body upheld findings by the Compliance Panel. The WTO action favored Canada and Mexico ultimately resulted in Congress and USDA dropping COOL requirements.

Canada and Mexico contend labels of origin on beef and pork is a non-tariff barrier to free trade.

USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service removed beef, ground beef, pork and ground pork from the list of covered commodities. R-CALF and its affiliate, Cattle Producers of Washington, sued Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue early last year, demanding USDA restore country of origin labeling for beef and pork.

U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson of the Eastern District for Washington State, dismissed the action against Perdue, saying USDA’s 2016 rule eliminating COOL was enacted just as Congress intended. The judge did agree the cattle producers suffered financial harm that was “fairly traceable” to losing country of origin labeling for beef and pork.

“The fact that the court agreed with us that independent pork and beef producers are harmed by COOL makes it even clearer that the Trump Administration and Congress must act now to protect them,” said David Muraskin, lead counsel for R-CALF in the suit. “This movement has been gaining ground outside of court, and we expect it to continue doing so despite this ruling,”

R-CALF’s legal team, which in addition to Muraskin included Beth Terrell and Blythe Chandler of Terrell Marshall Law Group in Seattle, and J. Dudley Butler of the Butler Farm and Ranch Law Group in Benton, MS, tried to challenge the 1989 rule that allowed removal of COOL labels on imported beef.   However, the court rule that underlying action had to be challenged prior to 1995.

Moreover, the court found that Congress’ act of repealing COOL for beef signified it is clear intent to allow imported beef to be sold to consumers without COOL markings.

“While obviously disappointing, the outcome of this case highlights the urgent need for the new Administration and new Congress to reverse the harm to U.S. cattle producers brought about by the actions of the previous Administration and Congress,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

“President Trump now has the opportunity to immediately reinstate COOL in his ongoing renegotiation of NAFTA as well as by initiating a rulemaking within USDA to require imported beef to bear its foreign marking through retail sale, just as the COOL rule effectively did from 2009 through 2015,” he added.

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