Any new US farm bill could have changes for COOL
NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.
Regulations are set to come into full force Saturday that require meat processors to list details including the countries in which livestock were born, raised and slaughtered. USDA issued the rules May 23 to update previous country-of-origin labeling (COOL) regulations that the World Trade Organization said discriminated against Canada and other trading partners. A six-month grace period on the rules is set to end Saturday.
It will be curious to see if USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack extends the deadline to allow, as he said last week, "the WTO to settle this matter" and not a new US farm bill.
Ron Plain, an agricultural economist with University of Missouri Extension said that he expects WTO will rule against the US again and the US will appeal, so the can will keep being "kicked down the road." Mexico and Canada have argued that the primary purpose of COOL’s record-keeping requirements is not to inform consumers but to discourage US packers from handling livestock from Mexico or Canada. Joining Canada and Mexico in their complaint to the WTO are two groups representing US meatpackers: the American Meat Institute and the American Association of Meat Processors.
Facts and figures. The US slaughters a large number of cattle from Mexico and Canada, as well as a large number of hogs from Canada. Plain says COOL puts packers in a bind: Segregating the meat is going to be very expensive, but if they stop slaughtering animals from Canada and Mexico, packers won’t have enough to operate some plants. The issue has been dragging on for more than a decade and Plain says there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. Meanwhile, the revised rules remain in effect. "The legal appeals process to the WTO is a very long, drawn-out process," he said. "I think we are set on a course that is going to last for some time to come."
The publicity regarding some farm-state lawmakers' attempts to repeal mandatory COOL has apparently galvanized opposition from COOL supporters to the extent that congressional sources now predict that while changes are still likely to be contained if there is any final farm bill, prior efforts to repeal the act authorizing COOL have diminished. Meanwhile, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently discussed this topic when he said the fate of mandatory COOL for meat products should be left out of the farm bill and handled by the World Trade Organization. The US meat industry largely opposes the rule, and Canada and Mexico – the two biggest sources of imported beef – have challenged the law within the WTO. A group of Congress members have proposed repealing COOL as part of the farm bill, which Vilsack said would set a bad precedent. Lawmakers in the US should allow the WTO to continue its investigation into the challenges against COOL, Vilsack told an event last week sponsored by Politico.
North American label? Congressional sources now signal that a move is underway by some farm bill leaders to come up with language that would specificy a "North American label" relative to COOL issues.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal today has an article on COOL – link.
Comments: Canada's Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Gerry Ritz and Alberta Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Verlyn Olson will be in Washington DC on Thursday to talk about COOL and other trade policy issues, we have learned.