Vilsack: COOL Decision Expected by June; No Fallback Plan

March 26, 2014 08:29 AM
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Formal notice expected in July

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expects to find out in June how the World Trade Organization will rule on USDA's final country-of-origin meat labeling (COOL) requirements. The formal notice would likely come in July, he told the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee today.

Dateline details. While Vilsack was not specific on the dates, trade source previously told me that a WTO panel is expected to a deliver a confidential interim report in the case to the Canadian and Mexican governments June 20, with a final report due July 22.

Vilsack said there is no fallback plan if the WTO decides that new regulations imposed last year violate international rules. USDA implemented the new regulations after an earlier WTO ruling.

I think it is important for us to allow that system to play out. The answer to your question on what do we do if we lose, I think a lot of it depends on precisely what the WTO says. If they don’t agree that we’re in compliance, why we’re not in compliance,” Vilsack told Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the subcommittee’s ranking Republican. “When they ruled the last time, it was you can label. Our view, from what they said, was that we weren’t specific. Now we’re quite specific.”

Blunt asked if simply using the designation "a product of North America" had been considered. Some cattle producers and meat packers in the United States, Canada and Mexico sought the catch-all country of origin for cattle born, raised and slaughtered in the three trading partners.

Vilsack's response: “What we took from the WTO ruling was you had to be quite specific about the various steps in the process. Where was the animal raised? Where was the animal processed? We will see what the WTO says,” Vilsack said. The new regulations, which Canada and Mexico are challenging, require COOL labels to specify where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

Comments: Vilsack, a lawyer, continues to be quite confident that the coming WTO ruling will be to his liking. If not, as he said, there is no fallback plan. Leave that to Congress....


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.






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