COOL debate continues in court
Defense fund created
Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations has joined the eight original plaintiffs from the United States and Canada in a July 8 case filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to denounce the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ruling regarding Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). As opponents have lined up, four organizations have united to defend COOL. The latest ruling would have brought the United States into compliance with the World Trade Organization.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, the National Farmers Union, the American Sheep Industry Association, and the Consumer Federation of America filed a motion Aug. 9 in the U.S. District Court to intervene in USDA’s defense.
A second lawsuit, announced Aug. 19 by Canadian officials, is a compliance review through the World Trade Organization regarding COOL. Both lawsuits have a common goal -- to end the implementation and enforcement of the U.S. Mandatory COOL program.
What’s the beef?
One big bone of contention in the ongoing dispute is allowing commingling of meat from different countries, a practice that was allowed before the most recent World Trade Organization Appellate decision.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association addressed the percentage of meat affected by this ruling in an April 11 letter. The group made note of “weaknesses in the COOL labeling program” by the Appellate Body and the inaccuracy used by slaughter plants that “allow meat to be labeled as mixed origin even when it in fact is of exclusively U.S. origin.”
Leo McDonnell, director emeritus of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), said in a July 26 USCA statement, the plaintiffs “... argue that ‘beef is beef, whether the cattle are raised in Montana, Manitoba [Canada], or Mazatlan [Mexico].’ Many producer groups, such as USCA, and consumer groups believe that consumers are entitled to the type of information the revised USDA regulations provide. It is important that those who believe this have their voices heard in this litigation.”
According to an update from the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Aug. 20, the U.S. District Court granted the motion by these four groups to “intervene in full” in the COOL lawsuit after the plaintiffs filed a partial opposition.
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Jon Wooster said, “The court’s order granting our motion to intervene makes clear that we can participate at the preliminary injunction hearings as well as in the remainder of the litigation.”
“A preliminary injunction, if granted,” Wooster added, “would further delay consumers having the type of information Congress has long wanted and that all of us who believe in COOL have been seeking through the regulatory process.”
A defense fund has been established to help the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. See “COOL Defense Fund.”
Prior to the U.S. District Court granting the motion, Canadian Minister of International Trade Ed Fast and Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Gerry Ritz issued the following statement Aug. 19, via the Canada News Center.
“We had hoped to avoid having to again resort to the WTO to resolve this matter,” the ministers said. “Despite consistent rulings by the WTO, the U.S. government continues its unfair trade practices, which are severely damaging to Canadian industry and jobs.
“... We believe that the recent amendments to the COOL measure will further hinder the ability of Canadian cattle and hog producers to freely compete in the U.S. market.”
The ministers added that the rules are “also hurting U.S. industry and consumers,” and said, “to respect Canada’s WTO obligations, our government will not act on retaliatory measures until the WTO authorizes us to do so.”
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson responded in an Aug. 20 press release.
“The issues raised by the Canadian government to the WTO are issues between two sovereign countries” and “Canada has the right to seek a determination on whether the United States’ action is consistent with the U.S. obligations,” Johnson said.
“It is important to remember that the WTO process is separate from the pending court litigation regarding COOL. ... As we have said before, we believe there is no merit in the court litigation and have intervened to defend the regulations, which are supported by producers and consumers.”
U.S. COOL Defense Fund
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Director Emeritus Leo McDonnell has begun a defense fund and created a website devoted to intervention in the COOL lawsuit. For more information, visit www.uscooldefensefund.org or call McDonnell at 406-780-0176 or U.S. Cattlemen’s Association’s Executive Vice President Jess Peterson at 202-870-3876.