USDA modifies COOL regulations for WTO compliance

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 23, 2013 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a final rule to modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities covered under the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program.

 

“USDA remains confident that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

 

The final rule modifies the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps, such as where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered, occurred and removes the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.

 

In June 2012, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) affirmed an earlier WTO Panel decision finding that the United States' COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and thus were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The United States has until May 23, 2013, to come into compliance with the WTO ruling in COOL.

 

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson applauded the move.

 

“We are very pleased that the USDA has decided to stand strong and keep COOL. The decision to bring the law into compliance with the WTO's ruling is a win-win situation for all interested parties. 

 

“We further applaud the administration for deciding to take a proactive approach in bringing COOL into compliance by providing more information on the origins of our food, instead of simply watering down the process.

 

“NFU has been a long time supporter of COOL and we will continue to vigorously support it. Consumers want and have the right to know where their food comes from.”

 

Notice of the final rule will be published in the May 24, 2013 Federal Register. The final rule will go into effect on May 23, 2013, the day it goes on display in the Federal Register. AMS will conduct an industry education and outreach program concerning the requirements of the rule, similar to the outreach program that was conducted following the 2008 Interim Final Rule and the 2009 Final Rule.

 

Under COOL, retailers must provide their customers with information about the origin of various food products, including fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish and meats. Mandatory COOL requirements help consumers make informed purchasing decisions about the food they buy. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is responsible for the implementation, administration and enforcement of the COOL regulations.

 

The final COOL regulations became effective March 16, 2009. Since then, AMS has devoted significant resources to education and outreach. Over these last four years, AMS has closely reviewed industry compliance with COOL. In 2012, USDA and its state cooperators conducted more than 3,800 compliance reviews of retailers. These reviews established an estimated 98 percent compliance rate for commodities under COOL. To learn more about COOL visit www.ams.usda.gov/COOL.

 

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