NOBULL: Vilsack: Let WTO Resolve Country-of-Origin Labeling

Vilsack: Let WTO Resolve Country-of-Origin Labeling

Food Safety News

Nov. 15, 2013

The fate of mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat products should be left out of the farm bill and handled by the World Trade Organization, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at an event hosted by POLITICO on Thursday.

Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) laws require meat sold in grocery stores to indicate the original source country (or countries) on the label. Congress approved voluntary labels in 2002 and decided to make them mandatory in 2008.

But the U.S. meat industry largely opposes the rule, and Canada and Mexico – the two biggest sources of imported beef – have challenged the law within the WTO.

A group of Congress members have proposed repealing COOL as part of the farm bill, which Vilsack said would set a bad precedent. Lawmakers in the U.S. should allow the WTO to continue its investigation into the challenges against COOL, he said.

Opponents say that implementing a mandatory COOL law could invite international sanctions against trading meat with the U.S., as U.S. customers would possibly shy away from foreign-raised meat.

Proponents of COOL, such as the National Farmers Union and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), are encouraging Congress to uphold COOL, saying it provides valuable information to American consumers. A May 2013 survey by CFA found that 90 percent of Americans believed they had a right to know the country of origin of meat they purchased.