By Barry Carpenter
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson's recent commentary which appeared July 27, 2015 on www.Agri-Pulse.com regarding mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) gets the story only half right. He’s right: COOL for beef and pork is dead; but just about everything else is either incorrect or misleading.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) case that Canada and Mexico brought against the United States about COOL is limited to labeling beef and pork, not the broad range of labels Mr. Johnson suggests. More specifically, the case is about labeling fresh, unprocessed beef and pork products produced in American plants, by American workers, under the watchful eye of USDA inspectors. Meat imported from Canada, Mexico, or any other country and offered for sale at a grocery store must be, and always has been, labeled as a product of that country.
Not only did the United States lose its “final appeal” -- it lost every time COOL was considered by the WTO. So now, after four straight losses the U.S. continues to violate its trade obligations and our economy faces $3 billion in annual retaliatory tariffs by Canada and Mexico as a result. Congress must act, and soon.
The U.S. House of Representatives has done so, passing a clean, simple repeal of the non-compliant provisions of COOL by an extraordinary, bipartisan vote of 300-131. The Senate should follow the lead of this overwhelming vote and bring the U.S. into compliance before two of our most important trading partners impose painful tariffs against a broad swath of U.S. made products – tariffs that will cost American jobs.
Mr. Johnson endorses a bill that is another attempt to perpetuate the current trade barriers erected to limit livestock born in Canada and Mexico from entering the U.S. market. Importantly, and not surprisingly, Canada and Mexico have rejected the proposal, a clear signal they would institute retaliatory tariffs even if the bill is passed and signed into law. The bill would fix nothing.
The North American Meat Institute supports the proposal offered by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts to repeal COOL for beef and pork, as the House has done. If, as NFU argues, consumers truly want to know the origin of the livestock from which the meat they purchase is derived, the market will respond, as it has done so repeatedly concerning other information about meat products – e.g., natural, hormone free, organic, among others.
We do not need Congress once again inserting itself into the market and imposing another inflexible statute. That was done before with COOL and it failed. What we need is for Congress to get out of the way and let the market, not government, develop a flexible, voluntary approach that provides consumers the information they truly want.
Barry Carpenter is the North American Meat Institute President and CEO.
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