The World Trade Organization (WTO) has issued a preliminary ruling that the U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) rule violates provisions of WTO’s agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). WTO ruled U.S. COOL requirements do not fulfill the stated U.S. objective of helping to inform consumers of the origin of meat and, consequently, violate the TBT agreement, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
In 2008, the U.S. Congress passed the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, which imposed mandatory COOL for beef and other meats. Canada and Mexico initiated the WTO case six months after the act was passed.
NCBA, NPPC and other groups opposed mandatory COOL when it was considered by Congress believing that the costs of complying with the law outweigh any benefits. Other groups, however, like R-CALF USA, felt the rule would benefit farmers and ranchers.
“The COOL law is widely supported by farmers, ranchers and consumers as an important consumers’ right-to-know law,” said R-CALF USA COOL Committee Chair Mike Schultz. “COOL enables consumers to exercise choice in the marketplace by giving shoppers the information they need to choose from which country they want their food produced."
Bill Donald, Montana rancher and NCBA president says this ruling is unfortunate for the U.S. government but the consequences of a poor decision have been revealed. "We fully support WTO’s preliminary ruling,” said Donald. “It is also very important to note that this ruling is very much preliminary and all of the details are not yet known.”
WTO will reportedly make the ruling public sometime in September, the the U.S. will then have two months to decide whether to appeal the ruling. According to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), WTO dispute panel decisions typically are appealed, but a final ruling is expected later this year. If the decision stands, the U.S. will need to comply with the panel decision or risk retaliation from Canada and Mexico.