Senators urge Appropriations panel to chill on COOL

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 9, 2014 - A bipartisan group of 32 senators is urging the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee to reject any efforts to weaken or suspend country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rules as Congress works on end-of-the-year funding legislation. The rules require that meat labels include where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

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"Congress enacted COOL in response to demand from consumers and livestock producers," the senators, led by Democrat Jon Tester of Montana, wrote Appropriations Chairman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and ranking member Richard Shelby, R-Ala. "Any legislative rider to undermine it would disadvantage American producers and roll back the transparency within our meat markets. It is critical that Congress not short-circuit ongoing efforts to support American producers and consumers."

In the letter, the senators noted that the World Trade Organization has been considering COOL since 2008. Mexico and Canada complained to the WTO that COOL is no more than thinly veiled protectionism and has harmed both countries' livestock markets. “The complexity of the case is unlikely to yield a clear-cut decision,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “However the United States has tools to address the outcome, once the WTO process reaches finality, to ensure labeling remains consistent with our trade obligations.”

“The Senate should not undermine the U.S. position by inserting a legislative rider into an Appropriations bill before the WTO process is final,” they said.

The WTO has completed its report on the matter and has informed the three governments involved of its findings but the decision has not been made public. The findings are expected to be made public later this month.

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In July, 114 House members urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to withdraw the rule if the WTO determines the U.S. is not compliant with WTO obligations

There have been numerous reports that the WTO ruled against the U.S. Sources told the Wall Street Journal that the agency determined that the U.S. rules were unfair, reinforcing a previous ruling from 2012 that prompted the U.S. to revise its rules.

Canada and Mexico have argued that the labeling rule put their meat exports at a disadvantage on the market. Canada has said that, since 2009, exports of pigs and cattle to the U.S. have declined.

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