By Philip Brasher
WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2014 -- Lawmakers won’t address the country-of-origin meat labeling law until the World Trade Organization decides on a U.S. appeal of a World Trade Organization ruling that USDA regulations are unfair to Canadian and Mexican producers, says the next chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Texas Republican Mike Conaway.

A ruling upholding the original decision would clear the way for Canada and Mexico to retaliate against U.S. exports, says the next chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Texas Republican Mike Conaway. The rules in question require meat labels to specify where an animal is born, raised, and slaughtered.

Conaway, a long-time critic of the labeling law, was unable to roll back the law during debate on the farm bill in the face of strong Senate resistance, and he said Tuesday there is no agreement among lawmakers yet about what to do with the rules.

If the administration loses the appeal, Canada and Mexico could impose retaliatory tariffs, a prospect that would spur affected industries to lobby Congress to roll back or kill the labeling law. That’s what will get lawmakers’ attention, according to Conaway. “Once are there are specific consequences for not doing something it’s easier to focus this body’s mind on the issue,” Conaway said, referring to Congress.

The National Farmers Union and a collection of consumer advocacy groups and other organizations that support COOL sent a letter to lawmakers Tuesday urging them to leave the labeling law alone. "American consumers are increasingly interested in understanding more about the origins of their food and the public overwhelmingly supports Country of Origin Labeling,” the letter says. "The commonsense COOL labels that are in place today provide additional and more accurate information about where their food comes from. Farmers are proud of the food they put on American dinner tables and support the current COOL labels that allow consumers to make more informed food purchasing decisions."

The U.S. appeal says that the compliance panel’s conclusion that the amended U.S. COOL regulations for beef and pork give less favorable treatment to livestock exports from Mexico and Canada was based on “erroneous findings of law and legal interpretations.”

The appeal will now be heard by three members of a seven-member Appellate Body representing the range of WTO membership. The appellate panel can uphold, modify or reverse the compliance panel’s legal findings and conclusions. The process can last as long as 90 days.


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