COOL supporters mount last-ditch effort to sidetrack repeal

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 8, 2015 - As the House of Representatives readies a vote to repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL), supporters of the controversial rule are making a last-ditch effort to save it from full repeal.

Today, a coalition of 283 agricultural, environment, consumer, and faith-based organizations sent a letter to House Agriculture Committee chair Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn. In the letter, the organizations, including the National Farmers Union and the AFL-CIO, say it is “premature for the Congress to unilaterally surrender to saber-rattling from our trading partners in the midst of a long-standing dispute.”

Lets Talk Food

Last month, the World Trade Organization (WTO) upheld an earlier ruling that a U.S. COOL rule - requiring meat labels to state where the meat-producing animal was born, raised, and slaughtered - accorded less favorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock than that given to their American counterparts. The ruling was the fourth such against the U.S., setting the stage for possible retaliatory tariffs levied by Canada and Mexico, which the two governments said last week could top $3 billion.

The groups say the U.S. has “a sovereign right to allow the dispute process to proceed to its completion and then decide how and whether to implement the adverse ruling.” They say high retaliatory figures “are merely aggressive litigation tactics designed to frighten the (U.S.)” and that “Congress should not fall for it.”

On a call with reporters last week, Gerry Ritz, Canadian agriculture minister, said Canada is “taking a hard line” and will accept nothing short of repeal. He called on American lawmakers to repeal the legislation behind the COOL rule and avoid retaliation.

The WTO's Dispute Settlement Body is scheduled to hear arguments about proposed retaliation June 17. Should retaliatory measures be approved, they are expected to be in place in late summer or early fall. In the letter, the groups say Congress should take no action until the WTO process has fully run its course, echoing a popular narrative of those in support of the much-maligned rule.

“COOL is extremely important to our organizations and to the American public,” the letter said, noting U.S. precedent for fully exhausting the WTO process. “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.”

The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on H.R. 2393, which would repeal COOL requirements for beef, pork, and poultry. Last month, the bill cleared the House Agriculture Committee in a bipartisan 38-6 vote backed by 13 Democrats. The bill was sponsored by Conaway and cosponsored by 32 other committee members. Peterson remains opposed to the bill and COOL repeal, saying he thinks it is “premature” and that he doesn't think full repeal could pass the Senate.

Conaway recently told Agri-Pulse that he hopes “the biggest vote we can get” on the bill would send a message to the Senate.

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