The first thing a federal judge in Denver is going to have to sort out when hearing the controversy over country of origin labeling (COOL) is whether a dispute really exists.

It’s possible there is a big misunderstanding occurring over how to read a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling vis-à-vis U.S. law.

“I can tell you that no international panel, including a WTO panel or the WTO Appellate Body, has the ability to change U.S. law,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) told Food Safety News. “It is up to the United States to decide how to respond to the decision, and we are continuing to study the reports and consulting with stakeholders to determine our next steps.”

The way the USTR looks at it, the WTO ruling by a 3-member appellate body upheld the right of the U.S. to adopt labeling requirements for American consumers for the meat they buy. The international ruling went against the U.S. on details like record-keeping and verification requirements.

In other words, the USTR sees no change in policy, only work to do on the details with WTO, and maybe Mexico and Canada, which mounted the original challenge, back in 2008.

Reading the same WTO decision, the feisty Billings, MT-based cattlemen’s association known as R-CALF sees U.S. sovereignty as at-risk because of WTO decisions.

“This WTO attack on our nation’s sovereign right to pass laws under our U.S. Constitution that are critically important to U.S. consumers and U.S. livestock producers will test the metal of the Obama Administration,” R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said in June when the ruling was issued.

When the Appellate Body came out, Bullard called it “bizarre.”

“The WTO now states that it can not determine if the U.S. COOL law is more trade restrictive than necessary to carry out the objective of the COOL law; but the WTO is nevertheless telling the U.S. it must change its COOL law to comport to international standards,” Bullard said.

So it was no surprise when Bullard called in his lawyers.

Joining R-CALF in filing the lawsuit in federal court in Denver last week were the USA Foundation and Melonhead, a U.S. meat and vegetable distributor. The goal of the lawsuit is to force the USTR and USDA to continue to enforce the COOL law.

While the USTR continues to represent the United States before the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, where it expects to have “a reasonable time to comply” with the ruling, the U.S. Department of Justice will represent the government in the Denver court.

  • Merle

    Typical of Bill Bullard and R-CALF to deliberately misinterpret ordinary events and fly off the handle all crazy. It must be habit-forming. In another trumped up fracas over imaginary anti-trust issues R-CALF sold out to anti-agriculture extremists, seeking refuge under the wing of Food & Water Watch. Birds of a feather squawk and flap brainlessly together. It’s all rather amusing until eventually they do some real damage to American agriculture. That’s their intent.
    Boycott R-CALF beef. Don’t indulge R-CALF’s childish temper tantrums in the supermarket aisle.

  • Merle, just so you know, I disagree with you. And by the way, R-Calf members sell their beef as AMERICAN beef, not R-Calf beef. Apparently you object to labeling domestic beef as being of domestic origin. Many folks still think it’s important to support domestic manufacturers. John Munsell

  • Ben

    Merle, why are you so afraid of the consumers can see for what he spends his money and what he eats and feeds to their families?! Of course you don’t want to show you buy cheap scraps from all over the world and put it on our tables! It would be good for the American agriculture if the consumer could see if he buys American products or from somewhere else. The way you wrote the comment you must have a lot to hide!

  • Joan

    It would be really nice if the Troll finger-pointer(s) would actually address and discuss the issues at hand — rather than just point fingers and run down groups they are opposed to. I’m not holding my breath, however — cause that’s All They Got.

  • Philip

    Last time I picked up a pair of jeans, it had a label of where it was produced. Why should food be held to a lesser standard than trade goods? WTO is off base here.
    Second point, our government was elected to make our laws. I do not believe that we should force our standards on others but I also feel that we should get the same respect. There may need to be exceptions where life and human rights are concerned but, “leg of lamb”?

  • Millie

    Aren’t these the same crackpots who were trying to convince all of us the EPA had ruled hay a pollutant and the world was going to end because of it? Where do these people come up with this priceless bellicosity? Is Mr. Bullard elected by membership to hold the office of chief alarmist at R-CALF or is it more like he’s anointed as cult leader? Reminiscent of Jonestown and Waco. Kind of scary.