WTO nixes country of origin labeling rules

Compliance protocols are about to get a lot less restrictive for Canada and Mexico-based meat producers after the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a ruling on country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements.

On May 18, WTO ruled that companies that produce and sell various cuts of meat to sell to U.S. consumers will no longer have to label the country from which the product originates, The Associate Press reported. The memoranda stated that this system has put foreign countries’ trade opportunities at a disadvantage.

The labeling system that the U.S. government initiated stretches back to 2002, and has gone through a number of amendments ever since. These alterations have been scrutinized by WTO in nearly every instance. For example, in 2012, WTO told the U.S. Department of Agriculture that labeling cuts of red meat with “Product of U.S.” was no longer sufficient. In an attempt to fix this, the USDA revised compliance protocols by requiring shippers to make them more specific, mandating that labels list where cattle was born and raised. This, too, did not win the approval of WTO regulators.

Though this is considered to be a win for shippers that send their cuts of beef from overseas – such as Canada and Mexico – by cutting down on paperwork and red tape, it will likely lead to more legislative maneuvering on Capitol Hill.

Tom Vilsack, USDA secretary, noted that this is an issue that the Congress will have to take up upon its return from the Memorial Day recess.

“Congress has got to fix this problem,” said Vilsack, AP reported. “They either have to repeal (COOL) or modify and amend it.”

White House ‘considering all options’
Because the USDA falls under the cabinet of the presidency, this is an issue that’s being addressed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Tim Reif, chief counsel for the U.S. Trade Representative, said that the Obama administration is “considering all options going forward” and intends to meet with legislators as well as other parties to ensure that the best, most effective measures are taken.

The decision comes as a major victory for Canadian and Mexican meat processing companies and shippers, which say that the industry has lost billions because of the program that’s been overtly discriminatory.

Canada implores US to abide by WTO ruling
Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture for the Canadian government, said that the U.S. needs to adhere to WTO’s decision, as for far too long, its labeling system has served as a hindrance to Canada’s economy in the macro and the beef industry in the micro.

“The WTO has been clear – the United States administration must end its discriminatory COOL policy that is causing hurt to beef and pork industries on both sides of the border,” said Ritz in a statement issued by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. “Our government is now seeking authority from the WTO to impose retaliatory measures against United States exports.”

He added that Canada will continue to stand for its meat industry’s interests to protect the bottom line of business owners.

Rick Bergmann, chairperson for the Canadian Pork Council, noted that this is the fourth time that the U.S. has lost a decision with WTO on food labeling. It’s time for the appeals process to end and for the U.S. to abide by WTO’s rulings.