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Reps stoke ‘COOL’ fire
Food labeling designed to help consumers make informed choices is under threat again. Opponents of the mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program continue their efforts to stop the program that originated in the 2002 Farm Bill. The U.S. House of Representatives is again trying to repeal the labeling program that identifies where an animal was born, raised, and slaughtered for human consumption. At present, Canada and 70 other World Trade Organization counties operate a COOL-like program.
The labeling law, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service, is being challenged now on two different fronts:
•Canada filed a compliance review through the World Trade Organization in mid-August.
•A case against the USDA in the U.S. District Court has been filed by Mexico, along with two organizations from Canada, and six from the United States (beef groups and packers).
The last attempt by the House failed, when an amendment in the House version of the Farm Bill was deleted when the version was approved by the full Congress. This time, a “companion to the bill,” or appropriations rider, has been included in the House version of the Agriculture, Rural Development Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill 2015.
According to U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Executive Vice President Jess Peterson, the companion to the bill is unique since it is “not binding -- meaning that the items included in the report are not necessarily to be included in the final bill.”
The rider states, “The Committee directs USDA not to implement or enforce the COOL final rule should the WTO [World Trade Organization] issue a final ruling against the United States.”
Also, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture is instructed to post the COOL suspension in the Federal Register until further notice.
This appropriations rider mentions the April 30 U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development and Credit Congressional hearing, also known as the “State of the Livestock Industry.”
Mike Harris of Harris Ranch also represents the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the North American Meat Association -- two of the groups who filed in the U.S. District Court. He addressed the World Trade Organization case involving COOL.
Harris believes Canada and Mexico will win the case and retaliate against the cattle industry.
“In 2013, Canada imported over a billion dollars in U.S. beef and Mexico imported just under a billion dollars. ... If we lose access to those markets, or they are restricted by the enactment of tariffs, that will have a negative impact on all U.S. producers,” Harris said.
The monetary data Harris cited is similar to the data found in the appropriations rider, “... It is estimated that U.S. exports to the two countries [Canada and Mexico] will suffer an economic impact of approximately $2 billion in retaliatory actions.”
During the same conference, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson defended the COOL program.
Johnson said for five years, “appropriations riders prohibited the implementation of COOL.” It was included in three Farm Bills, in 2002, 2008, and 2014, and “went into full effect in 2009.”
The Farmers Union president added that the meatpackers over-estimated the COOL program citing that the program will cost “upwards of $1.6 billion for the beef and pork industries alone.” A 2013 analysis by the USDA estimates costs of $53.1 million to $137.8 million.
The National Farmers Union “strongly opposes the use of an appropriations rider or other legislative vehicle to deny consumers access to information about their food,” Johnson said.
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Jon Wooster said his group will monitor this and other issues in the appropriations process.
The World Trade Organization is expected to makes its decision in mid-July.
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