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WTO announces decision on COOL

After a lengthy process, the World Trade Organization officially announced that the United States’ implementation of mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) for imported meat is noncompliant with WTO rules. WTO that found that COOL in its amended form discriminates against the Canadian and Mexican livestock industries. The U.S. amended the COOL regulations after a similar ruling in 2012.

Opponents of COOL have long feared this noncompliance and WTO repercussions, while COOL supporters feel it is a valuable tool for consumers and producers in terms on marketing and transparency.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has been concerned about possible sanction from the WTO for quite some time.

“The announcement today by the WTO dispute panel on the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling rule brings us all one step closer to facing retaliatory tariffs from two of our largest trading partners. Our producers have already suffered discounts and faced the closure of a number of feedlots and packing plants due to the effects of this shortsighted regulation. COOL is a failed program that will soon cost not only the beef industry, but the entire U.S. economy, with no corresponding benefit to consumers or producers,” said Bob McCan, NCBA president. “NCBA has maintained that there is no regulatory fix to bring the COOL rule into compliance with our WTO obligations or that will satisfy our top trading partners. We look forward to working with Congress to find a permanent solution to this issue, avoiding retaliation against not only beef, but a host of U.S. products.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU), meanwhile, has been a strong supporter of COOL from the beginning. NFU President Roger Johnson said that the ruling can be handled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and reminded lawmakers of the strong support by the public and in rural America for the popular labeling law.

“American consumers want to know where their food comes from, and America’s family farmers and ranchers are proud to provide that information,” said Johnson. “Nothing about today’s ruling changes that rudimentary fact.”

This most recent challenge to COOL, filed by Canada and Mexico, challenges the final rule put forward by USDA and comes on the heels of an earlier WTO ruling that found the U.S. has the right to require labeling of meat products, but found fault with how the rule was implemented.

“Under the guidance of USDA, any changes to COOL to ensure full compliance with today’s decision should be able to be made administratively, while maintaining the integrity of COOL labels,” Johnson said.

A May 2013 public opinion poll found that more than 90% of consumers support COOL.

“We are confident that given that level of support, Congress will reject all heavy-handed attempts to make legislative changes to this important labeling law,” Johnson said.

Since its passage in 2002, COOL has been the subject of constant debate on both sides of the issue.

This recent ruling will likely take many months to resolve, since it will likely be appealed, and the WTO process is slow moving.

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