Cool talks heat up Farm Bill debate
Country of origin labeling (COOL) has never been “cool.” It’s been the topic of hot debates before and is raising temperatures in Congress again, after a review by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Live swine and cattle and related products account for $4.1 billion in trade between the United States and Canada. This could be impacted by the WTO, which released a decision June 29 to settle differences between the United States, Mexico, and Canada regarding labeling of beef and pork. But opponents of the ruling are now introducing an amendment in the 2012 Farm Bill, fueling the fire.
According to a July 5 Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas (ICA) press release, the final WTO Appellate ruling:
•“Affirmed the U.S. consumers’ right to require truthful meat labeling and the panel found that the U.S. meat labeling law fulfills a legitimate business objective.
•Ruled that the segregation of foreign and domestic cattle at the point of harvest imposes a burden on Canadian and Mexican imported cattle.”
In December 2008, Canada filed the first complaint against the United States regarding provisions in the mandatory country of origin labeling as amended by the 2008 Farm Bill.
The issue at hand is whether animals exported from Canada to the United States for feed or immediate slaughter can be designated as “Label A.” This label is currently used for animals exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States. See “COOL labels” for more.
Mexico and 13 other countries soon joined the complaint as “third parties,” according to the WTO Appellate Body report circulated June 29. Among these third parties are Argentina, Brazil, and Japan.
In November 2011, the WTO dispute settlement panel found the United States violated certain provisions within the COOL program. On March 23, 2012, the Office of the United States Trade Representative appealed the November decision, while Canada and Mexico filed cross-appeals.
On June 29, the appellate rulings reversed at least one of the rulings regarding COOL.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk gave this statement June 29: “The Appellate Body’s ruling confirms that families can still receive information on the origin of their meat and other food products when they shop for groceries. ...
“We are also pleased that the Appellate Body overturned the initial finding that COOL is more trade restrictive than necessary ... in doing so, the Appellate Body agreed with the United States and declined to accept any of the alternatives that Canada and Mexico claimed we should have used instead,” Kirk said.
See “Groups respond” for comments from two national cattle organizations.
According to the June 29 Office of the United States Trade Representative press release, “the next step in the process is for the WTO Dispute Settlement Body to adopt its recommendations and rulings. The U.S. will then have a reasonable period of time to comply.”
One method being proposed is through the 2012 Farm Bill currently being debated in Congress.
Chuck Kiker, ICA member and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association director from Beaumont, in a July 6 ICA press release, “encouraged producers to remain engaged as the process of finding solutions to compliance issues unfolds.
“The packing industry wants access to the ‘A’ label, which is specifically reserved for U.S. born, raised, and processed product. The packing industry and importers have made it clear they want to convert that to a North American label or redefine the U.S. label to include foreign animals processed and fed in the United States,” Kiker said.
He continued, “Opponents of COOL want Congress to rewrite the law and will surely push to water it down even more and redefine what qualifies for the ‘A’ label or U.S. origin. There is already talk of an amendment being slipped into the 2012 Farm Bill to accomplish just that.”
Rep. Randy Neugebauer filed a farm bill amendment July 11 to that effect.
According to a July 11 U.S. Cattlemen’s press release, the “amendment would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue a report, within 90 days of enactment, to the House and Senate agriculture committees detailing the steps the Secretary of Agriculture will take to bring the United States into compliance with the World Trade Organization’s final ruling dealing with certain COOL implementation measures.”
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Jon Wooster said “Neugebauer’s amendment is not needed and complicates what agriculture producers hoped would be a bipartisan and expeditious farm policy passage in the House.
“The WTO’s final ruling affirmed the U.S. COOL law and its objectives,” Wooster said. “The solutions to COOL implementation issues found by the WTO can be achieved through some simple regulatory adjustments handled by USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Congress does not need to tamper with the law as it is written.”
Now the debate continues. Will the exclusive “Product of the U.S.A.” label continue, or will a different label, such as “North American” be implemented in the future?