Food & Water Watch Decries Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling Proposal

June 25th, 2015

Food & Water Watch Decries Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling Proposal

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C. — "Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the anti-consumer proposal to replace mandatory country of origin labels (COOL) with a voluntary labeling program for beef and pork products. This policy change would let meatpackers conceal the origin of the food Americans feed their families. Food & Water Watch vehemently opposes the elimination of mandatory COOL either by repealing the statute or by making these labels voluntary.

"Last month, the House of Representatives rashly repealed country of origin labeling for beef, pork, chicken and ground meat under the guise of responding to an international trade dispute. Canada and Mexico challenged mandatory country of origin labeling at the World Trade Organization and have threatened to apply billions of dollars in tariffs to U.S. exports if the United States does not overturn its own law requiring labeling of meat. But these penalty levels have never been approved by the WTO and the dispute process has not been completed.

"Today, Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) offered a proposal she hoped would mollify our trading partners but it will not. Canada and Mexico are demanding unconditional repeal even in advance of the final WTO arbitration. A voluntary labeling scheme that primarily allows meatpackers to choose whether or not to affix a ‘born and raised in America’ label would present nearly identical WTO problems as a mandatory label, but with few of the benefits. The United States has been embroiled in a nearly two-decade WTO dispute over the voluntary ‘dolphin-safe tuna’ labels, so making COOL labels voluntary does not automatically eliminate trade disputes.

"The long struggle to require basic information on food labels has made it clear that we can not allow the meatpacking, food processing and grocery retail industries to determine what to disclose to consumers. More Americans are demanding to know more about what is in their food and where it comes from, but Senator Stabenow’s proposal lets Big Ag decide whether or not they will tell us what we are feeding our families.

"Voluntary COOL is indistinguishable from total repeal: meatpackers won’t use it, consumers won’t see it and U.S. farmers and ranchers won’t benefit from it. We had voluntary COOL prior to 2009, and the meatpackers refused to sell beef and pork with a ‘born and raised in America’ label.

"This week the Senate approved Fast Tracking more trade deals that give foreign trade bureaucrats the authority to trump the U.S. Congress. The Senate should not cede its authority to trade tribunals by gutting COOL. Whether it is in the form of repeal, or making this mandatory labeling requirement voluntary, changing our law on labeling before the WTO process is even finished is unacceptable."

Patrick Woodall
Research Director
Food & Water Watch
1616 P Street NW Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036