R-CALF USA: NFU Is Irresponsibly Misrepresenting the Voluntary COOL Bill

R-CALF USA: NFU Is Irresponsibly Misrepresenting the Voluntary COOL Bill

Billings, Mont. – R-CALF USA and the National Farmers Union (NFU) once worked together to support, pass and maintain mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL). As recently as June 8, 2015, the two groups were signatories to a letter addressed to congressional leaders informing them that their respective organizations "remain steadfast in their opposition to any efforts to undermine COOL through repeal or any other measure."

"COOL is extremely important to our organizations and to the American public. We oppose any legislation that would repeal any portion of the COOL law. We urge Congress to stand up for America’s consumers, farmers and ranchers by rejecting any effort to unilaterally repeal a popular food label even before the WTO process has concluded." Their joint letter concluded.

But the NFU suddenly changed its position and lately has been touting voluntary COOL as the solution to the ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute against mandatory COOL.

In a news release issued today, the NFU stated that the bill to repeal mandatory COOL and replace it with a voluntary clause introduced by Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is the solution to Canada and Mexico’s complaint filed at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

‘The voluntary program will allow for those who would like to use an origin label to continue to do so, while preventing labels from being misused or misleading.’ NFU President Roger Johnson said.

"This statement is irresponsible and deceptive," countered R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard adding:

"The only entity in the multi-segmented beef supply chain that possesses both the unilateral power to affix a label or not affix a label is the meatpacker that buys live animals and then converts those live animals into consumable meat.

"Anyone who would claim that a cow/calf producer in Montana, Iowa, Michigan, South Dakota, Nebraska or anywhere else can continue to have the meat from their cattle labeled with a voluntary COOL label after they sell their animals into the multi-segmented beef supply chain is being outright deceptive," Bullard said.

Currently, the United States, Canada and Mexico are involved in the arbitration phase of the dispute in which the WTO will ultimately determine what damages, if any, Canada and Mexico are entitled to recover through retaliatory tariffs as a result of the implementation and operation of the U.S. COOL law. Canada and Mexico claim they are entitled to recover over $3 billion annually. However, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) states their claim is grossly overstated and the maximum amount that Canada and Mexico should be able to recover is less than $91 million annually.

To put this into perspective, the U.S. lost a previous WTO case against Brazil involving the U.S. cotton program. The WTO ruled in Brazil’s favor and determined that Brazil would suffer $147 million in damages each year. In 2010, the U.S. offered to pay Brazil a one-time payment of $300 million to settle the entire matter. And that is what the U.S. did.

"The amount the U.S. paid Brazil to settle the cotton case is more than three times the amount the USTR has determined is the maximum amount Canada and Mexico can possibly claim against our mandatory COOL law," said R-CALF USA Bill Bullard.

Bullard contends this example clearly demonstrates that there are more and better options available to the U.S. than to just repeal COOL or to weaken it by making it voluntary. He said in addition to negotiating a one-time cash settlement as we did with Brazil, other options include obtaining an agreement to maintain mandatory COOL in return for granting Canada and Mexico other concessions in ongoing trade negotiations, or for concessions in ongoing trade disputes involving sugar subsidies, softwood lumber, or restrictions on liquid milk and wheat access, to name just a few.

But he said that NFU’s disregard of its own member-policies that expressly support "mandatory" COOL is now effectively foreclosing the opportunity available for R-CALF USA and over 140 other U.S.-based organizations that want to preserve mandatory COOL.

"Most or all of the groups want to improve COOL and believe we can effectively address the WTO’s complaints that many meat products are presently exempt from labeling because they are considered ingredients in processed foods, sold in food service establishments, or sold in stores that do not meet the definition of a retailer.

"We can fix these legitimate concerns and doing so will greatly benefit U.S. consumers and U.S. producers while simultaneously addressing the WTO complaint," Bullard said adding, "but we are now being hindered by the irresponsible and unsupportable statements being made by the NFU.

"It is one thing to be at odds with groups that are ideologically opposed to your position but quite another to be obstructed by an organization that is disregarding and/or contradicting its own policies," Bullard concluded.

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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.