As expected, the World Trade Organization has ruled the US Country of Origin label requirement for meat is illegal by world trading rules. Canada and Mexico have threatened to retaliate with trade tariffs if the US does not eliminate the COOL program. As Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack points out, the US has three options when it comes to COOL, “We either have to change the law, repeal the law, or change the way the law is implemented.” The Administration, most Democrats in Congress, and the National Farmers Union favor working with Canada and Mexico to make the changes needed to make the program WTO compliant. NFU President Roger Johnson says there is a way this can be done, “In fact, some 70 different countries have very similar COOL laws on their books.” Johnson said, despite the WTO ruling, there is still a way forward for COOL. “As we have seen in other disputes, once decisions are handed down, WTO members often work together to find a solution that will work for them,” said Johnson. “In this case, such a solution must involve continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labeling requirement.”
“COOL is clearly one of the most important issues for rural America, and NFU members have chosen to travel to Washington to voice their commitment and unwavering support for this popular labeling law,” said Jim Benham, Indiana Farmers Union President. Benham. Sixty Farmers Union members from 27 states arrived in the nation’s capital this week, determined to meet with a targeted group of legislators to urge them to stand strong behind COOL and to allow the WTO process to conclude without their intervention. “Despite the recent WTO decision, there is still a path forward for COOL,” said Benham.
“For Congress to insert itself in the middle of the WTO process would not only be unprecedented in U.S. history, but would also be a disservice to consumers who want to know where their food is from and to producers who are proud to provide the information.”
Republicans and the NCBA says it is time to scrap the rule to avoid trade retaliations. Collin Woodall, with the NCBA, says there is good support in Congress to scrap the COOL program, “We have no doubt that the only way to fix and avoid trade retaliation is to repeal COOL for beef, pork, and chicken.” He added that COOL is a failed experiment and it is time to scrap it and move on. The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives calls on Congress to take swift action to repeal the COOL provisions, “Without action, two of this country’s largest export markets—Canada and Mexico—will undoubtedly move quickly to impose billions of dollars in tariffs on U.S. food, agricultural products, and manufactured goods in retaliation. Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in American exports, including from farmer-owned co-ops across the country, will be at risk unless Congress acts now.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation took a middle ground when AFBF President Bob Stallman said, “Farm Bureau will carefully review the decision and then determine recommended actions. We will work with Congress, USDA and USTR to reach the goal of an effective COOL program that conforms to international trade rules.” In his statement, Stallman added AFBF supports a country-of-origin labeling program that adheres to appropriate parameters and meets WTO requirements.
House Ag Committee chairman Michael Conaway will move quickly and hold a press conference on Tuesday to announce plans to do away with the COOL program. Senate Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts has also issued a statement in favor of scrapping COOL, “I have serious concerns that potential remedies suggested, such as the generic label, will not satisfy the Canadians and Mexicans and fail to halt impending retaliation.”
Democrats remain in support of the program. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson said he is committed to fixing COOL not scrapping it, “There are still several steps in the WTO process that must be met before any retaliation could go into effect, so we should take the time to thoughtfully consider how to move forward.”