July 17, 2018

Appeals Court Won’t Rehear COOL Dispute

The fate of country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law took another turn when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rendered a decision not to rehear the dispute. So unless the U.S. Supreme Court takes the case, the USDA rules that producers put information about where meat was raised and slaughtered on labels will stand.

GavelBut the World Trade Organization disagrees. The countries of Canada and Mexico have sued the United States several times, stating that these labels discriminate against producers in their countries who export meat to America. Canada and Mexico could impose steep tariffs on U.S. exports in retaliation.

Consumer and food safety advocates want meat labels to include information about where beef cattle, for instance, are born, raised, and slaughtered so consumers can make informed decisions about the foods they buy. Other countries are opposed to this stance, since they are fearful that American consumers would refuse to buy meat from animals raised in those countries.

The USDA issued its final rule about COOL in May 2013. Labeling provisions for muscle cuts “require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps (i.e. born, raised slaughtered) occurred and removes the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.”

Some in the manufacturing and agricultural industry want Congress to make changes to COOL so the law would be complacent with the WTO complaint before tariffs can be imposed next year. Options to bring COOL into compliance could include the USDA reworking COOL regulations, or a change in legislation. The legislative change would amend the law so “all meat processed from imported livestock is labeling the same as meat processed from domestic livestock,” according to the Congressional Research Service.

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