WASHINGTON, May 2, 2013 – Supporters of the U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program today urged the Agriculture Department to issue a final rule to modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities covered under the COOL program.

Four organizations told reporters in a teleconference that they hope the current proposed rule would become a final rule before May 23, which is the deadline for the United States to come into compliance with a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling on COOL.

The proposed rule, published in the March 11 Federal Register, would modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to require the origin designations to include information about in what country each of the production steps - born, raised, and slaughtered - occurred. Further, it would remove the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.

“The change is modest,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. “It would provide more specific information to consumers…it would add a few words.”

Johnson said he believes the USDA will meet the deadline. The comment period for the proposed rule ended April 11.

“The conversations I’ve had [with USDA officials] are they will meet it,” Johnson said. “I think the comments won’t be that hard to analyze.”

The USDA hopes the rule will put the U.S. meat industry in compliance with WTO requirements.

In June 2012, the appellate body of the WTO affirmed an earlier WTO panel decision finding that U.S. COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports.

The proposed rule has met with the expected opposition.

The American Meat Institute (AMI) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) have argued that the rule is burdensome and costly.

“Only the government could take a costly, cumbersome rule like mandatory country-of-origin labeling and make it worse even as it claims to ‘fix it,’ AMI president J. Patrick Boyle said recently. “That’s exactly what they are doing with a new proposed rule that purportedly aims to bring the law into compliance with U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization.”

NCBA president Scott George has suggested the Canadian government would consider all options including extensive retaliatory measures against the rule.

Johnson shrugged off that notion.

“Opponents to COOL, principally packer-producer organizations, are suggesting that Canada will pursue retaliatory responses to the strengthened COOL language,” Johnson said. “It is important to understand that these organizations have never supported COOL because they can make more money by blending foreign products into American meat and pass it off as U.S.-produced.”

On costs, the proposed rule said the change would cost between $16.9 million and $47.3 million for implementation by all the companies in the supply chain.

The other groups involved in the teleconference were Food & Water Watch, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

To view the proposed rule, visit http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5103078


For more news, go to www.agri-pulse.com