USDA Issues Final Rule on Cool

10:19AM May 23, 2013
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USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has issued its final rule on Mandatory County of Origin Labeling (COOL). The final rule amends the COOL regulations to change the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to provide consumers with more specific information and amends the definition for "retailer" to include any person subject to be licensed as a retailer under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA). "The COOL regulations are issued pursuant to the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. The Agency is issuing this rule to make changes to the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to provide consumers with more specific information and other modifications to enhance the overall operation of the program," states the memo.

The final rule modifies the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to 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. In June 2012, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) affirmed an earlier WTO Panel decision finding that the United States’ COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and thus were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The United States has until May 23, 2013, to come into compliance with the WTO ruling in COOL. Notice of the final rule will be published in the May 24, 2013 Federal Register. The final rule will go into effect on May 23, 2013, the day it goes on display in the Federal Register. AMS will conduct an industry education and outreach program concerning the requirements of the rule, similar to the outreach program that was conducted following the 2008 Interim Final Rule and the 2009 Final Rule.

Under COOL, retailers must provide their customers with information about the origin of various food products, including fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish and meats. Mandatory COOL requirements help consumers make informed purchasing decisions about the food they buy. AMS is responsible for the implementation, administration and enforcement of the COOL regulations. The final COOL regulations became effective March 16, 2009. Since then, AMS has devoted significant resources to education and outreach. Over these last four years, AMS has closely reviewed industry compliance with COOL. In 2012, USDA and its state cooperators conducted more than 3,800 compliance reviews of retailers.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association says it is "deeply disappointed with this short-sighted action" by USDA. "Our largest trading partners have already said that these provisions will not bring the United States into compliance with our WTO obligations and will result in increased discrimination against imported products and in turn retaliatory tariffs or other authorized trade sanctions," says the group. "As we said in comments submitted to USDA, 'any retaliation against U.S. beef would be devastating for our producers.' While trying to make an untenable mandate fit with our international trade obligations, USDA chose to set up U.S. cattle producers for financial losses. Moreover, this rule will place a greater record-keeping burden on producers, feeders and processors through the born, raised and harvested label."