USDA is no longer going to enforce Country of Origin Labeling requirements (COOL) for beef and pork products because the law was repeated by Congress in the Omnibus Bill. Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, said that labeling regulations will be amended as soon as possible.
The USA has been in a fight with the World Trade Organization for years over this issue. WTO ruled that Canada and Mexico, which opposed the labeling requirements, could impose more than $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. products as punishment for the “harm” the labels were causing producers in those countries.
Many consumer groups and agricultural groups were in favor of COOL, believing that consumers have a right to know where the foods they buy come from. A Montana-based cattle trade association called R-CALF USA was the most vocal proponent.
R-CALF released a statement after COOL was repealed that said, “Section 179 of the spending bill strips U.S. citizens of their right to know the origins of the beef and pork and ground beef and ground pork that hundreds of millions of consumers purchase at retail grocery stores for themselves and their families. Congress did this and the President concurred without any congressional debate, let alone public debate.”
The WTO ruled that labeling was a non-tariff trade barrier, in violation of agreements signed by the US and other countries. The US government appealed this ruling several times over the past few years, but WTO ruled against them consistently.
Food & Water Watch urged the Senate to reject the effort to repeal COOL.Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of that organization, released a statement which read, “Today, the World Trade Organization once again overstepped its bounds and decided that the commonsense country of original labeling law for beef and pork was an illegal trade barrier. Today’s ruling demonstrates how unaccountable foreign trade tribunals are trumping U.S. laws to benefit global agribusiness.”
An effort was made earlier in the year to compromise on the issue and make COOL a voluntary labeling program. Food safety and consumer advocates rejected that compromise, stating the consumer’s right to know where their food comes from.