House Ag Committee leadership touts support for COOL reform

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, June 9, 2015 - As the House of Representatives gears up for floor action on a bill to repeal meat labeling country-of-origin labeling (COOL), supporters are voicing their backing of the bill, hoping to avoid billions in economic sanctions.

In a letter posted on the House Agriculture Committee's Republican website, more than 100 companies and organizations urge all 435 members House members to support H.R. 2393, which would repeal requirements that beef, pork, and poultry labels state where the meat-producing animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. House Ag Committee chair and Texas Republican Mike Conaway introduced the bill, saying it was the best option to avoid economic retaliation from Canada and Mexico.

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The letter was authored by the COOL Reform Coalition, and signers range from big retailers like Anheuser-Busch and Wal-Mart to large agricultural interests like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council. It says the mere prospect of retaliation is unacceptable and should motivate affirmative votes for the bill.

“Given the negative impact on the U.S. manufacturing and agriculture economies, we respectfully submit that it would be intolerable for the United States to maintain, even briefly, requirements that have been deemed non-compliant by the WTO rules that the U.S. was instrumental in writing,” the letter said. The writers said the threatened tariffs could result in reduced export sale, emphasizing that “once such export sales are lost, it takes years to recover market share.”

“Retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. would leave exports punished, farm prices depressed, businesses hurt and jobs lost.”

A similar but opposing document was sent to Conaway and committee ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., yesterday. That letter, signed by 283 agricultural, consumer, environmental, and faith-based groups said it was “premature for the Congress to unilaterally surrender to saber-rattling from our trading partners” and urged the full use of the dispute settlement process governed by the World Trade Organization.

Canada and Mexico have recently suggested their combined retaliatory action could top $3 billion from tariffs on a wide variety of products. The WTO's Dispute Settlement Body is set to hear oral arguments concerning potential retaliation June 17. In a state-by-state analysis of potential economic impact compiled by the COOL Reform Coalition, Conaway's native Texas could face tariffs on $9.2 billion worth of exports, the highest total for any state in the nation. 

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to set the procedure for floor debate of Conaway's repeal bill - dubbed the Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act of 2015 - this afternoon and floor debate is expected to take place tomorrow.

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