Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) does not provide much in the way of “measurable economic benefits” for American consumers and costs producers, packers, and retailers in the United States $2.6 billion a year for all covered commodities, USDA’s chief economist stated in a 198-page report sent Friday to Congress. The report was mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill and was put together by a team of agricultural economists from Kansas State University and the University of Missouri. COOLabel_406x250“In terms of consumers, USDA’s regulatory impact analyses concluded that while there is evidence of consumer interest in COOL information, measurable economic benefits from mandatory COOL would be small,” according to the report. “USDA’s regulatory impact analyses also found little evidence that consumers are likely to increase their purchases of food items bearing U.S.-origin labels.” USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist (OCE) contracted with agricultural economists, including Dr. Glynn Tonsor and Dr. Ted Schroeder, both from Kansas State University, and Dr. Joe Parcell at the University of Missouri for their expertise on livestock marketing issues. The professors did not find any evidence of measurable increases in consumer demand for beef or pork based on the COOL regulations. While the chances of finding consumer economic benefits from COOL were slim, they did recognize the “substantial interest” in COOL by some based on a so-called “consumer’s right to know.” The report, which Congress demanded be completed within 180 days of the president signing the 2014 Farm Bill, has landed just before the World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to rule on whether or not COOL is an unfair trade barrier as claimed by Canada and Mexico. So far, all the related WTO rulings have gone against the U.S. If the U.S. loses this last appeal, it’s possible that Congress will repeal COOL. USDA did successfully defend the COOL regulations in U.S. courts. The regulations require labels indicating where beef, pork, and poultry are “born, raised and slaughtered.” Bill Bullard, CEO of the United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), recently told Congress that COOL means that, “No longer can meat from animals born and/or raised in a foreign country be passed off to unsuspecting U.S. consumers as meat deserving of the U.S. farmers’ and ranchers’ reputation.” USDA’s economists are only the latest to weigh in on the economic impacts of COOL. Auburn University Professor C. Robert Taylor last month went public with a study that blames a $1.4-billion loss in sales by Canada to the U.S. on an economic downturn, not America’s COOL regulations. Canada’s studies to the contrary form the basis for its claims for billions in reparations from the U.S. for unfair trade practices. Those could impact the U.S. economy far outside the meat industry. The 2008 Farm Bill called for COOL, which took effect in 2009, with amendments added in 2013.