USDA halts COOL enforcement after repeal

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2015 - The Agriculture Department immediately stopped enforcing the country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork after approval of legislation repealing the rules.

“USDA will be amending the COOL regulations as expeditiously as possible to reflect the repeal of the beef and pork provisions,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

The department must conduct a new rule making to remove the beef and pork labeling requirements from USDA regulations. 

He said that enforcement of the rules would end “effectively immediately” but that “all imported and domestic meat will continue to be subject to rigorous inspections by USDA to ensure food safety.” His department must undertake a new rule making to remove beef and pork from the labeling requirements. 

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The repeal of the country-of-origin labeling law was designed to avert more than $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs that the World Trade Organization authorized Canada and Mexico to levy against a variety of U.S. products because of COOL requirements.

Canadian officials said they would be closely monitoring USDA's implementation of the legislation but that the repeal measure "fully answers" its WTO complaint and effectively killed the possibility of tariffs. “What we were seeking was repeal and repeal has happened," said International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland. 

She said, however, that Canada would proceed with getting formal authorization of the tariffs on Monday, a move which could affect development of a voluntary COOL program to replace the mandatory requirements. Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay said the repeal "will remove a major trade barrier with the United States."

The COOL rules were left intact for poultry, a small win for defenders of the law, which was enacted as part of the 2002 farm bill. The repeal provision was contained in spending and tax legislation that Congress cleared and President Obama signed into law on Friday.

“U.S. exporters can now breathe a sigh of relief,” said Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “From the ranchers in Kansas to the jewelry makers on the East Coast, every state had something to lose from keeping mandatory COOL intact.”

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Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, which opposed repealing the rules, said the congressional action “makes clear that trade agreements can - and do - threaten even the most favored U.S. consumer protections.”

But the dairy industry, which stood to lose business because of the potential retaliation, welcomed the repeal. 

“Repealing the six-year-old Country-of-Origin Labeling program for beef and pork prevents the loss of millions of dollars of U.S. dairy exports that would have resulted from the World Trade Organization ruling,” Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation.

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