R-CALF USA: Senate COOL Hearing Pathetically Biased
Billings, Mont. – Today, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing regarding the United States’ country of origin labeling (COOL) law and trade retaliation. Five of the witnesses who were selected to testify at the hearing favored the immediate repeal of COOL to avoid the ongoing threats of retaliation being made by Canada and Mexico. Only one witness, Leo McDonnell representing the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, appeared to favor COOL but he continually called for changing "mandatory" COOL to "voluntary" COOL so, he said, everyone can walk away a winner.
R-CALF USA COOL Committee Chair Mike Schultz said that because not a single witness was selected to defend the 13-year-old mandatory COOL law, the U.S. Senate has radically changed the dynamics of the COOL debate.
"The Senate has effectively removed preservation of mandatory COOL from the table and the debate has now been deflected to focus only on whether we should include a voluntary labeling program after mandatory COOL is repealed," Schultz said.
Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) pointed out at the conclusion of the hearing that beef and pork are already eligible for a voluntary USA label under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) voluntary process verification programs. In addition to the examples Roberts provided, the USDA is currently approving such voluntary labels as "Born and Raised in the USA," a voluntary origin label that the USDA has already certified for IMI Global.
"After about nine years of experience with voluntary labeling during which time very few packers and retailers were willing to participate, it is clear to us that shifting the debate to a choice of only voluntary COOL and repeal of COOL is nothing more than a smokescreen to ensure that COOL is repealed," Schultz commented.
"U.S. cattle producers and U.S. consumers will both lose regardless of the outcome of that narrow choice," he added.
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said the Senate agriculture committee has inexcusably allowed Canada and Mexico to shape the COOL debate. He said the U.S. Agriculture Secretary and the U.S. House of Representatives have uncritically agreed that that U.S. should kowtow to Canada’s and Mexico’s threats of retaliation even before the two countries have offered any proof that their livestock industries have suffered any measurable financial harm as a result of COOL.
"You have to admire the tenacity of the Canadian and Mexican officials who, by acting with considerable determination, have caused our U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, our U.S. House of Representatives, and now, apparently, our U.S. Senate to literally quiver in their boots. It is pathetic and sad that the U.S. does not have officials willing to exhibit the same sense of nationalism for the interest of U.S. citizens as these foreign officials are exhibiting for theirs," Bullard remarked.
Bullard also said the current attack on COOL is really a symptom of a much larger problem that Congress refuses to address. He said that Congress has unwittingly accorded more autonomy and more authority to the World Trade Organization (WTO) than the United States accords its own judicial system.
"It is alarming that the U.S. has agreed to allow non-judges at the WTO, who also are foreigners, to decide the fate of U.S. laws passed under the U.S. Constitution. These non-judges are not bound by U.S. judicial standards, not bound by U.S. due process standards, and there appears to be no concern whatsoever for blatant conflicts of interest, which is evidenced by the fact that a Mexican national served on the ruling COOL panel for the complaint brought by Mexico," he said.
Bullard claims that even if the U.S. is unwilling to address the considerable loss of sovereignty caused by its voluntarily acquiescence to the non-constitutional rulings of the WTO, there is still a way to resolve the COOL issue without depriving either U.S. consumers of their right to know where their meat is produced or U.S. livestock producers of their right to proudly display a U.S.-origin label on their meat.
"The President, alone or with Congress, should inform Canada and Mexico that of all the things they would like the United States to change, COOL is not one of them.
"If our officials were to exhibit this level of courage then Canada and Mexico would likely settle down and welcome negotiations on the plethora of other accommodations the two countries seek that will not have such a harmful impact on U.S. consumers and U.S. producers," said Bullard.
After all, Bullard pointed out, the United States is by far the most import export market for both Canada’s and Mexico’s economy.
"Canada, for example, is dependent on the U.S. to purchase over 75% of its exported goods," he said.
"It simply makes no sense for the United States to act so pitifully in the face of Canada’s and Mexico’s rantings when the U.S. has more than enough leverage needed to preserve our important COOL law, Schultz 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.