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Agriculture Today

Cattlemen urge vigorous defense of COOL appeal process

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March 8, 2012 | 4,679 views | Post a comment

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association said that it fully supports a vigorous appeal of the World Trade Organization dispute settlement panel’s ruling on U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL), in a Feb. 17 U.S. Cattlemen’s Association press release. The U.S. Trade Representative must file its intent to appeal by Friday, March 23. Cattlemen’s President Jon Wooster of San Lucas, Calif., said the cattlemen’s association is actively engaged in the matter and will continue working with the Obama administration as the appeals process unfolds.

The dispute settlement panel proceedings were initiated in 2008 when Canada and Mexico filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization alleging that the U.S. COOL requirements were designed to achieve a protectionist objective and argued that COOL requirements breached the World Trade Organization obligations by discriminating against Canadian and Mexican livestock exports to the United States.

The dispute panel’s extensive report affirmed the right of the United States to require country-of-origin labeling for meat products, but disagreed with specific implementation measures.

Canada and Mexico alleged in their World Trade Organization complaint that their respective livestock industries were at a competitive disadvantage by COOL because of higher segregation costs at the point of harvest for foreign cattle.

“Contrary to the misinformation some groups insist on spreading, the dispute settlement panel affirmed the right of the United States to require country-of-origin labeling for meat,” said Leo McDonnell, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association director emeritus. “The bottom line is that our foreign competitors and the packing industry want to weaken the eligibility requirements for the ‘A’ label, ensuring their meat supply is a generic product that can be marketed under the guise of the U.S. born, raised, and processed label. Their argument is that feeding or processing a live animal is substantial transformation and that the meat derived from that carcass qualifies for the ‘A’ label. The ‘A’ label meat is the most desired category by consumers, packers, and retailers and it provides price discovery for all categories of meat. Differentiation of product and branding of product provides for a more competitive pricing structure that ultimately benefits all producers.

“What gets entirely lost in this argument is the consumer’s right to truth in labeling and U.S. cattle producers who have a right to differentiate their product in the retail case,” McDonnell said. “Following the dispute panel’s ruling, some U.S. cattle groups have urged the administration not to appeal and stated publicly that the solutions lie in making statutory changes to, or weakening, the COOL law. This fractured message undermines U.S. cattle producers. Fortunately, 19 U.S. senators, led by Tim Johnson and Mike Enzi, stepped up for the U.S. cattle industry and sent a letter to the Obama administration urging it to maintain its support and defense of COOL at the WTO [World Trade Organization] level.”

A newly released study titled “Navigating the Product Mindset: Food Industry Report” analyzes the differences between consumer and manufacturer perceptions regarding the makeup of today’s food industry and it finds that the vast majority of manufacturers polled believe there is a distinct correlation between the perceived quality of unprocessed food products and the country of origin. The study also finds that more than 50 percent of consumers also believe the country of origin of food products will become more important over the next five years.

Country-of-origin labeling designations

Under COOL, there are four categories of country-of-origin labels to be applied to muscle cuts, and a fifth label is reserved for ground meat.

•Label “A” -- Reserved for “U.S. Origin” meat and is applied to meat derived only from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States.

•Label “B” (Multiple Countries of Origin) -- Meat derived from animals not exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States.

•Label “C” -- Meat derived from animals imported into the United States just prior to slaughter.

•Label “D” -- Foreign country of origin meat.

•Ground meat labels -- List all “reasonably possible” countries of origin of the animals from which the meat is derived.

Source: USCA Feb. 17 press release

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