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Agriculture Today

U.S. senators cool about the COOL program

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Wilson County News
February 20, 2013 | 4,207 views | Post a comment

In yet another chapter to the ongoing Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) dispute, more than 30 U.S. senators have united to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative to work with stakeholders to “ensure consumers know the origin of their food, giving them the option to buy American meat if they choose.”

The Jan. 31 senate letter, sent to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, states in part, “While we disagree with the DSB [Dispute Settlement Body] decision and the June 29, 2012, Appellate Body decision, we appreciate that the WTO [World Trade Organization] recognized the United States’ legitimate authority to require country of origin labeling for beef and pork products. Following a deliberative and thorough process which has lasted for more than 10 years, Congress enacted COOL in response to demand from consumers and livestock producers that reliable information be available about where their meat and seafood come from.”

The senators asked the groups to focus on three critical principles, including working actively with industry stakeholders and allowing for public comment from consumers, livestock producers, and industry representatives. The senators added that “the WTO [World Trade Organization] Appellate Body found that providing consumer information on the origin of meat is a ‘legitimate objective’ as was intended by the U.S. law. Instead, it was the implementation of the 2009 final COOL rule that was inconsistent with the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement.”

The Consumer Federation of America, Public Citizen, R-CALF, USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America), Food and Water Watch, and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, according to a Feb. 1 press release from U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, all support the letter from the 31 senators.

This is not the first request for congressional intervention. In July, U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer filed a 2012 Farm Bill amendment that, if passed, would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture 90 days to issue a report to the House and Senate agriculture committees for being in compliance. The House took no action on the Farm Bill. For a brief history of what led to this, see “What’s the fuss?”

Cattle groups take sides

The COOL issue has received mixed reviews from both sides of the fence.

“These Senators who signed onto this letter [Jan. 31] signaled their support for U.S. cattle producers’ right to differentiate their product in the marketplace,” said U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) President Jon Wooster in a Feb. 1 press release. “There is a consistent and growing call from the consuming public for increased transparency with food labeling. COOL provides this, and we’re pleased that this group of U.S. Senators has taken action to give consumers the opportunity to make informed purchasing decisions and to choose U.S. born, raised, and processed beef.”

However, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said last June, “The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been extremely clear that mandatory Country of Origin labeling is a clear WTO violation. ... This did nothing more than jeopardize our strong trade relationship with Canada and Mexico, the two largest importers of U.S. beef.”

This group is clear about its opposition, and even approved a resolution in 2011 to repeal the Livestock Title in the 2008 Farm Bill to eliminate the COOL program.

On the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association website, under “Country of Origin Labeling,” the organization states:

“How do cattle producers and COOL influence each other?

•“Cattle producers are not directly regulated by COOL, but packers will require producers to verify the origin of the cattle they purchase.

•“NCBA helped develop a standardized affidavit that can be used to verify origin throughout the cattle market, from conception to consumer ...

•“Participating in the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) automatically provides all the recordkeeping needed to be COOL-compliant.”

The National Animal Identification System was discontinued in 2009, due to opposition, and was replaced by the federal Animal Disease Traceability Rule, which takes effect March 11.

The issue will continue to be debated.

What’s the fuss?

The Farm Bill amendment by U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer follows a lengthy debate as to whether the United States violated certain provisions within the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program. In December 2008, Canada filed the first complaint against the United States. In July 2012, the final World Trade Organization Appellate ruling:

•“Affirmed the U.S. consumer’s 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.”

See “COOL talks heat up Farm Bill debate,” July 18, 2012, Wilson County News for more.

Since the appellate ruling, the World Trade Organization announced in early December that May 23 is the deadline for the United States to come into compliance with the World Trade Organization’s ruling.

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