Effective immediately, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says,  USDA will no longer enforce the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements for beef and pork products because COOL was repealed by Congress.

Vilsack said labeling regulations on the books will be amended “as expeditiously as possible” to bring the beef and pork provisions into line.  It means an end to the January 2009 and May 2013 country of origin labeling requirements on muscle cuts of beef and pork, and on ground beef and pork.

USDA will continue to subject all imported and domestic met to rigorous food safety inspections, according to the Secretary.

Congress included COOL repeal in the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill after the World Trade Organization (WTO)  ruled Canada and Mexico could begin imposing more than $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. products to punish it for the harm the labeling requirements were doing to them.

While many agricultural and consumer groups favored COOL, no organization fought longer and harder for it than the Billings, MT-based cattle trade association known as R-CALF USA.

“Section 179 of the spending bill strips U.S. citizens of their right to know the origins of the beef and pork and ground beef and ground pork that hundreds of millions of consumers purchase at retail grocery stores for themselves and their families,” R-CALF said in after the President signed the bill.

“Congress did this and the President concurred without any congressional debate, let alone public debate,” it continued. “Section 179 was cemented into the massive spending bill behind closed doors.”

R-CALF said the repeal amounts to a gift by the President and Congress to 15 other nations  that produce beef and pork for sale in the U.S.

USDA’s regulations to implement country of origin labeling were upheld by U.S. Courts when they were challenged by North American meat producers. The WTO,  however,  found the labeling scheme amounted to a non-tariff trade barrier prohibited by trade agreements signed by the U.S.

And to even the scales, WTO said Canada and Mexico could begin imposing retaliatory tariffs on other products the U.S. sells in those countries.

Bill Bullard, chief executive of R-CALF USA, said the U.S. could have tried the diplomatic approach with Canada and Mexico to see if there were ways outside of WTO “to resolve their parochial concerns with our COOL law before any retaliatory tariffs could be implemented, but the President and his cabinet remained indifferent to the potential loss of the right of U.S. citizens to know the origins of food.”

Philip Ellis, president of the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said repeal of COOL was one of several victories for cattlemen and woman that were contained in the omnibus.

Ellis said COOL was a failed program with its costs imposed on cattle producers.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)