Country-of-origin labeling (COOL), a 2002 idea that was written into law in the 2008 Farm Bill, is a technical barrier to free trade and therefore violates trade agreements the United States has with other countries including Mexico and Canada, the World Trade Organization ruled on Friday.
In other words, the U.S. has lost its COOL with the WTO.
Country-of-origin labeling, which quickly became known as COOL, was a movement that grew like a prairie fire, but as soon as it became American law, first Canada and then Mexico went complaining to the WTO, saying the labeling discouraged imports of their foods.
While COOL was being implemented in the U.S., it’s been slowly working its way through the WTO appeal process of naming hearing panels and filing various written and oral arguments.
The final word from WTO is that COOL must go because it is a TBT, or “technical barrier to trade.” The U.S. signed a treaty preventing technical barriers to trade in 1979.
In a statement, the U.S. Trade Representative said the White House office was happy meat was an exception from the decision.
“We are pleased that the panel affirmed the right of the United States to require country of origin labeling for meat products,” said Andrea Mead, press secretary for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “Although the panel disagreed with the specifics of how the United States designed those requirements, we remain committed to providing consumers with accurate and relevant information with respect to the origin of meat products that they buy at the retail level. In that regard we are considering all options, including appealing the panel’s decision.”
The U.S. has 60 days to appeal. The U.S. could ignore the WTO decision, but then Canada and Mexico could ask for tariffs to offset their losses.
Many U.S. agriculture and environmental groups are upset with the decision, which they say violates consumers’ right to know where their food comes from.