July 23, 2014

WTO Rules Against COOL Again

Back in April, we told you about the Obama administration appealing the World Trade Organization’s ruling that the U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) program in the 2008 Farm Bill is a barrier to free trade.

On June 29, 2012, the WTO ruled against the United States’ COOL plan again, saying it unfairly discriminated against Mexico and Canada because of certain record keeping and verification requirements those countries say were designed to “achieve a protectionist objective”. U.S. meat processors must separate Canadian and Mexican animals and the meat that comes from them, increasing costs, so the big processors tend to avoid meat from those countries. Canada and Mexico brought the case to the WTO in 2008.

Other parts of the decision affirmed the U.S. right to adopt COOL. It changed an earlier decision that COOL does not fulfill its goal of giving consumers information on food origin and is more trade restrictive than necessary.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement, “We are pleased with today’s ruling, which affirmed the United States’ right to adopt labeling requirements that provide information to American consumers about the meat they buy. The Obama Administration remains committed to ensuring that information on the origin of all food products covered by COOL is available to American families so they can make informed purchasing decisions.”

The government will have to change how the program is run and make the language more specific to ensure it is not a barrier to trade. Canada wants meat to be labeled based on where the animals are slaughtered or processed, not where they originate.

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to consumer interests, released a statement that “the WTO put the interests of international agribusiness ahead of consumers when it again ruled that parts of the United States’ requirement for mandatory country-of-origin labeling of food is a violation of international trade law. This ruling is an assault on American democracy and undermines the ability of Congress to give consumers basic information about the source of food in their kitchens.”

She continued, “country of origin labels are overwhelmingly supported by consumers in the United States and worldwide. Governments everywhere are adopting country-of-origin labels to provide consumers with vital information they need to make informed choices about where their food is from and how it was produced.”

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