A lawsuit filed in Denver’s U.S. District Court last week seeks a court order declaring the World Trade Organization does not have authority to override U.S. law. At issue is a WTO ruling that U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) provisions violate global trade law and unfairly curtail agricultural commerce.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by The Made in the USA Foundation and a coalition of groups, including co-plaintiff Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF). In addition to the WTO, the suit names U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack as defendants, alleging they failed their respective duties.
Mandatory COOL laws have been in place since March 2009 forcing food companies to identify the nations from which beef, pork, lamb and some fresh produce originate. Canada and Mexico objected to the provisions because they increased the costs of their exports and reduced their competitiveness. The WTO agreed with Canada and Mexico’s objections.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Made in the USA general counsel Joel D. Joseph said, “The WTO does not have the right to interfere with domestic laws of the United States. When the U.S. joined the WTO, it agreed to do so only if the WTO could not overrule U.S. law. More than 90 percent of U.S. consumers favor the Country of Origin Labeling Act. This law does not discriminate against any country, it merely requires labeling. Consumers have a right to decide whether to buy U.S. or imported meat, and accurate labeling is a consumer right.”
To review the objections to COOL, the WTO appointed an appellate panel of three judges that included a Mexican lawyer who has represented Mexcio in trade cases.
“The WTO’s appellate panel was unfairly biased against the United States and should not have allowed a Mexican lawyer, with an obvious conflict of interest, to sit on the panel,” Joseph said.
In a statement issued by R-CALF USA, Region VI Director and COOL Committee Chair Mike Schultz, Brewster, Kan., said the suit is designed to protect and preserve the right of all Americans to know the origins of their food.
“As U.S. citizens, we never gave up our right to continue governing ourselves under our U.S. Constitution, and we certainly didn’t grant the WTO authority to undermine our domestic laws. This lawsuit is necessary to force this Administration to stand up and defend our U.S. sovereignty by disavowing any authority the WTO claims over our nation’s ability to pass beneficial laws for U.S. citizens.”