Groups Jockey for Position Ahead of Final WTO Decision on COOL

Groups Jockey for Position Ahead of Final WTO Decision on COOL

By News Desk | July 1, 2014

As the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) final decision regarding country of origin labeling (COOL) looms, industry is asking Congress to prepare for a judgment against the U.S.

“With little potential for quick Congressional action after a WTO final adjudication, we request that Congress authorize and direct the Secretary of Agriculture to suspend indefinitely the revised COOL rule for muscle cuts of meat upon a final adjudication of non-compliance with WTO obligations,” states the letter from dozens of companies and industry organizations to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and the House Committee on Agriculture.

COOL requires that meat be labeled with the specific country where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered, and the governments of Canada and Mexico have argued that the rule is out of compliance with WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

The meat industry is concerned that the rule is a source of added production costs, and that retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico would hurt a broad spectrum of industries.

According to POLITICO, WTO has issued a confidential interim decision that gives the sides time to comment before the final decision is made public in a few weeks.

“We have received the interim report, but detailed review is necessary before commenting further,” a USDA official reportedly told POLITICO Pro on Friday.

The National Farmers Union took a different view than the industry groups of what the agency should do.

“Urging Congress to repeal COOL laws before the WTO report is issued is just another desperate attempt to prevent consumers from having access to basic information about their food,” Roger Johnson, NFU president, said in a statement.

During a House budget hearing in April, Edward Avalos, the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that the agency is “confident” that changes to the rule which took effect last year will put the U.S. in compliance with WTO. When pushed on the issue, he said that the agency would address the decision when it’s made.


Let’s dismiss all the hoopla surrounding this issue, and admit that the bottom line is that the food industry desires to blend domestically produced food with food accessed globally, with no distinction. The food industry desires the freedom to create a global undifferentiated soup of ingredients from all origins, regardless of food safety inadequacies, environmental concerns, or labor exploitation inherent in some of these sources. I desire to avoid all products from China, as an example. But, since America now bows at the feet of WTO, to whom we ascribe ultimate knowledge and authority (we have acquiesced our sovereignty), global citizens are being denied basic facts which would enable us to pick and choose products from countries which we perceive have laudable food production practices. WTO & transnational companies tell us that there’s no need to know if food originates from Timbuktu, Kalamazoo, or Putin’s garage. We are being told that there’s no need to buy local, or buy national. Instead, loyal global citizens are being told to "Buy Global", the price we pay to homogenize global ingredients and create an unfettered, seamless global trade system. We are sliding down a slippery slope, one which I’m convinced is not good for public health.

John Munsell