WTO says COOL rules discriminate

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 - The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled today that U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements provided less favorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock.  The panel also determined that the U.S. COOL requirements must include clearer labeling information to reach its consumer information objective. However, the panel affirmed the United States' right to require COOL on meat products. 

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“We are pleased that the panel affirmed the right of the United States to require country of origin labeling for meat products,” said Andrea Mead, Press Secretary for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “Although the panel disagreed with the specifics of how the United States designed those requirements, we remain committed to providing consumers with accurate and relevant information with respect to the origin of meat products that they buy at the retail level. In that regard we are considering all options, including appealing the panel's decision.”

The labeling law was passed as a part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 and amended in 2008. COOL requires retailers to notify their customers of the source of certain foods.

In December 2008, Canada and Mexico initiated dispute settlement proceedings against the United States related to country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements for meat products. Among other claims, Canada and Mexico alleged that the COOL statute, COOL implementing regulations, and a USDA letter related to the COOL requirements discriminate against their livestock exports to the United States in breach of U.S. WTO obligations. Canada and Mexico also alleged that the U.S. COOL requirements were designed to achieve a protectionist objective.

The WTO panel affirmed that the United States has the right under WTO rules to adopt COOL requirements. The panel also confirmed that the United States had not adopted these requirements to achieve a protectionist objective, but rather to provide consumers with information about the origin of the meat products they buy at the retail level.

However, the panel disagreed with the way the United States designed its requirements and determined that they provide less favorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock. Additionally, the panel determined that the U.S. COOL requirements fail to fulfill their consumer information objective because the information included on the labels is not clear enough in all instances. The panel also decided that the USDA letter represents an unreasonable administration of the U.S. COOL requirements.

The next step in the process is for the reports to be adopted by the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) or appealed to the WTO Appellate Body.

“We are pleased that WTO agreed that COOL is allowable in principle, giving consumers the right to know the origin of their meat products,” said National Farmers Union president, Roger Johnson. “NFU will continue to work closely with the U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that COOL is implemented to the fullest extent of the law and in accordance with WTO. If these results are unsatisfactory, then NFU will push to appeal the decision and continue to fight for U.S. consumers, farmers, and ranchers to ensure COOL is allowed to continue for as long as it takes to get this done.”


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