The Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Wednesday on country-of-origin labeling (COOL) and trade retaliation got something new to chew on. On the eve of the first Senate action since the House of Representatives voted to repeal COOL, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking minority member on the committee, circulated a draft bill for voluntary COOL. The Michigan Democrat got some encouragement from Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, but she got the cold shoulder from his House counterpart, Rep. Michael Conway, R-TX. Stabenow_406x250Roberts, who said he consistently opposed COOL “during its failed tenure,” called Stabenow’s draft “a positive step forward in the dialogue.” Conway said Stabenow’s voluntary approach still leaves too many “burdensome mandatory labeling requirements” in place. He said any talk about a voluntary program can only occur after “full repeal” of the mandatory program. The House repealed mandatory COOL regulations after the United States lost its final appeal over the program before the World Trade Organization (WTO). USDA’s COOL regulations had been upheld by U.S. courts before they ran afoul of the WTO. Canada and Mexico successfully argued that COOL was an unfair non-tariff barrier to trade because beef and pork products from their countries are being segregated by U.S. processing plants in order to meet COOL mandates for keeping track of where an animal is born, raised and slaughtered. The WTO ruling clears the way for Canada and Mexico to potentially impose close to $3 billion a year in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products. And that retaliation would not likely be limited to the meat counter. That’s why the Senate Agriculture Committee will be hearing today from Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, and Chris Cuddy, senior vice president of Archer Daniels Midland Company’s corn processing unit, in addition to four livestock industry experts.