COOL compliance continues to generate controversy

The COOL Reform Coalition applauds Congress for including in the FY 2015 omnibus appropriations bill a directive for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative to report recommendations no later than May 1, 2015 to Congress that will assure U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements for meat products comply with U.S. trade obligations. The omnibus bill is expected to pass Congress this week. This the Coalition feels this action demonstrates bipartisan support for addressing the problem, but additional action is required. In addition the COOL Reform Coalition is urging Congress to enact a contingency plan and rescind requirements of COOL that are found to violate U.S. trade obligations. This will ensure that COOL does not result in serious damage to our economy and harm our global competitiveness.

In contrast, the National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson and United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) President Danni Beer today sent a letter to the House and Senate leaders strongly objecting to three  provisions slipped into the 2015 Appropriations Act in the dark of the night, without a single congressional hearing or an ounce of public discussion.

“NFU and USCA are very concerned that the report language included on Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) could be used as an opportunity to stop the appeals process at the World Trade Organization or re-open the legislation that mandated COOL, both of which are unacceptable,” notes the letter. “Congress should not intervene in the WTO process.”

Formally known as Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, the bills are being considered before both the House and the Senate this week. The joint letter points out that also included in the Act is a provision that orders the Secretary of Agriculture to refrain from implementing a reformed beef checkoff program, with the irony that the closing period on public comments for the beef checkoff is just closing.

“National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is so fearful of losing its $40 million-plus revenue stream through the beef checkoff that it has lobbied for this language to be included in the report rather than allowing producers the ability to have their comments recognized and addressed through the commenting process. NCBA has lobbied Congress on a mandatory producer checkoff program that they control,” notes the letter.

Also contained in the proposed Act is a legislative provision that prohibits the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) from implementing regulations on the livestock and poultry industry that would address an array of fraudulent, deceptive, anti-competitive and retaliatory practices.

The letter points out that gutting the GIPSA law “would deny farmers protection from retaliation when they use their first amendment rights to speak with congressional representatives, deny them the right to a jury trial, and deny them the right to request information on how their pay is calculated. This provision is unconscionable.  Its inclusion in a funding bill is unacceptable to NFU’s and USCA’s members.”

“We strongly object to the use of the appropriations process as a mechanism to limit the secretary’s authority to uphold the COOL law, to respond to the dire need for reform of the beef checkoff, and to address anti-competitive market concerns.”

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