Sparking calls from U.S. retailers to repeal the law, a World Trade Organization dispute panel has ruled that the U.S. country of origin labeling law is inconsistent with U.S. trade obligations.
The WTO dispute panel found the U.S. labeling law gives less favorable treatment to Canadian cattle and hogs in comparison with U.S. with domestic livestock and thus violates trade agreements. What’s more, the WTO dispute panel said that mandatory country of origin labeling does not fulfill its objective of providing consumers with information on origin.
The Food Marketing Institute issued a statement by the group’s regulatory counsel Erik Lieberman that called for an end to the law.
“The World Trade Organization (WTO) recognized what the supermarket industry has known all along—that COOL is a protectionist law designed to make it more costly and difficult for retailers to sell imported foods,” Lieberman said. “COOL has forced the industry to spend millions of dollars each year on unnecessary regulatory burdens all for little or no benefit to consumers.”
Despite high rates of compliance with the law Lieberman said that the COOL law has become more of a burden than ever, and makes it challenging for retailers to carry imported produce, meats and seafood.
“The COOL law will need to be repealed or rewritten in order for the U.S. to meet its obligations to global trading partners,” Lieberman said in the FMI statement. “We look forward to working with Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop an alternative system, one that will provide useful information to consumers and put our nation in compliance with international trade agreements.”
Although the panel disagreed with the how the U.S. implemented the law, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said the WTO dispute panel affirmed the right to require country of origin labeling on meat products.
“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,” Andrea Mead, press secretary for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a statement. “In that regard we are considering all options, including appealing the panel’s decision.”
The USTR said the next step in the process is for the reports to be adopted by the WTO Dispute Settlement Body or appealed to the WTO Appellate Body.