Guest Editorial/Op-Ed by R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard**
COOL: It’s About U.S. Sovereignty
Distinguishing imported meat from domestic meat is not new. The Tariff Act of 1930 requires labels on imported meat to indicate to the "ultimate purchaser" its country of origin. This explains why imported canned meat and imported ready-to-eat meat has been labeled for as long as most of us can remember.
However, volumes of imported meat remained unlabeled because the U.S. interpreted "ultimate purchaser" to be the last purchaser of the meat product in the form in which it was imported. Big meatpackers began circumventing labeling requirements by cutting, blending, grinding or repackaging imported meat.
The United States’ accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) brought with it a similarly lax origin standard. Under WTO rules, the country of origin is where the meat product was last substantially transformed. Thus, meat from a Canadian steer slaughtered in the U.S. would bear a USA label when exported to Japan.
Parents whose children received ground beef in their school lunches were dissatisfied with such lax origin standards. The U.S. responded by prohibiting imported beef or beef from cattle imported for immediate slaughter from federal procurement programs. As a result, school lunch beef must be derived from animals that were at least raised and slaughtered in the United States.
By 2002, American citizens decided the WTO’s origin definition was too weak; the USDA’s policy of omitting origin information on altered or repackaged meat was unacceptable; and, the somewhat better origin standard used for school lunches was still intellectually dishonest in a society that values accurate consumer information.
That’s why Congress passed the mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) law. It wasn’t easy. Foreign countries and big meatpackers opposed it. But, Americans committed to defending their right to know where their food is produced persevered. What emerged was a uniquely American mandatory COOL law that reserved the USA label only for meat from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.
The COOL law was initially implemented as a voluntary program, which lasted from 2002 until late 2008. Only a negligible volume of meat was ever labeled during the six-year voluntary program. Voluntary COOL was a failure.
Voluntary COOL failed because big meatpackers don’t want to disclose the origins of meat. In 2013, the big meatpackers sued the USDA claiming that COOL violated their First Amendment free speech rights by forcing them to provide COOL labels against their will. Our federal courts repeatedly rejected their claims.
Contrary to our Constitution-based federal court system rulings, the WTO ruled that providing accurate labels to U.S. consumers violates U.S. obligations to the WTO.
More and more in Congress believe the U.S. must become subservient to a higher authority than that contemplated by our Constitution-based, checks-and-balances form of government. That higher authority is the WTO. The certain amount of national sovereignty they willingly cede to this international tribunal is justified, they say, because the U.S. must go along to get along.
The WTO is not patterned after our U.S. judicial system. It appoints foreign, non-judges as triers of fact who freely criticize our constitutionally-passed laws without being bound by fundamental U.S. judicial standards.
Global governance admirers are now scrambling to change our COOL law, even before the WTO dispute resolution process is completed. Alarmingly, 300 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to repeal COOL even before the U.S. had a chance to initiate arbitration, which is the final phase of the WTO’s dispute resolution process. This is an unprecedented surrender of U.S. sovereignty.
Not to be outdone, members of the U.S. Senate agriculture committee are in heated competition to either repeal COOL or convert it to an unworkable voluntary program. Some committee members are all too willing to surrender our sovereign COOL law, again before the WTO dispute resolution process has even been completed.
It’s a sad commentary that without so much as a public quarrel Congress is working to deprive U.S. consumers of their freedom to choose from which country their meat is produced. Whether by repeal or conversion to a voluntary program, the outcome will be the same – consumers will no longer be informed as to where the animal from which their meat is derived was born, raised, and slaughtered.
If you agree that you have a right to know where your meat is produced, please call your U.S. Senators as soon as possible and urge them to vote "No" on the repeal of COOL and "No" on converting COOL to a voluntary program.
** Contact R-CALF USA Organizational Activities Director Laurel Masterson at 406-252-2516 for a photo and/or bio information on R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is the largest producer-only cattle trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.