Jolley: Five (more) minutes with Canada, COOL & Gerry Ritz

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Earlier this week Canada's Ag Minister Gerry Ritz - he occupies a similar position to the USDA's Tom Vilsack - traveled to Chicago. He was backed by a delegation of provincial agriculture ministers and industry representatives to speak harshly to a packed room of meat industry execs attending the North American Meat Conference Outlook Conference.

His troop included Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Verlyn Olson; Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart; Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Ron Kostyshyn and representatives from the Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Canadian Pork Council.

I sat in the audience and listened as he spoke.  His harshness wasn't aimed at the audience which included 'friendlies' from a few of the U.S. based organizations that agreed with his position; the American Association of Meat Processors, American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association and Southwest Meat Association.  It was directed at the folks who are pushing hard for COOL. 

Mr. Ritz is annoyed that COOL, which took a decade of political wrangling before the WTO struck it down as unnecessarily restrictive.  Not long afterwards, it was reinstated in an even stricter format by the USDA.  The Canadians, not willing to go through another ten years of arm-wrestling to reopen what had once been an open border, are angry.  Far too polite to say ugly things and start a shooting war over a bunch of cattle, Ritz outlined retaliatory counter measures while trying to sound moderately conciliatory.

The Ag Minister is banking that the upcoming farm bill will stop a painful tariff war. 

Talking with CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange: "The farm bill is one of the president’s top priorities. It’s certainly an ideal time to increase the pressure, to make amendments in the farm bill — that would be the quickest fix." 

To the Outlook Conference: "COOL continues to hurt industries on both sides of the border, adding unnecessary red tape, delays, and costs to our integrated North American meat industry. US legislators have an opportunity now through the Farm Bill to end the economic harm that COOL is having throughout North America.  Our government remains committed to pursuing all options available to resolve this dispute, including retaliation.  COOL laws are a political solution to a problem that doesn't exist."

"At the end of the day, we will also use retaliatory measures, should they be required. It’s the last bullet we want to fire, but we have that in our arsenal so the Americans know we are serious about putting those retaliatory measures in play."

"We don’t see any need for it at all. We recognize each other’s science, we recognize each other’s food safety regimes, and consumers in the U.S. are not lining up and saying, ‘We have to have this."

"Of course, the American consumers will ultimately pay that bill as well as Canadian ranchers and pork producers who will take less for their product moving into the American market."

But there are voices on the other side of the argument.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation for The Humane Society of the United States: “Consumers deserve to know where their food comes from. And factory farming organizations that seek to have it otherwise are out of step with their customers.”

Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at Consumer Federation of America: "Ninety percent of Americans strongly support mandatory country of origin labeling for fresh meat and, in fact, want even more information about the meat they purchase. There is no reason for Congress to change this popular law."

Roger Johnson, President of the National Farmers Union: “Recent threats by the Canadian Agriculture Minister are unjustified and out of line. As a sovereign nation, we should not take direction from Canada. They do not dictate what is compliant, it is the reason we have the WTO. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed its commitment and confidence in U.S. COOL laws on multiple occasions.  The USTR has said several times publically that the changes contained in USDA's final rule will bring the current COOL requirements into compliance with the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling."

The Bottom line: Waldrop is insanely wrong.  Ninety percent of Americans couldn't get together and agree on anything.  They'll even debate whether or not water is to drink and air is to breathe.  Johnson is out of line, too.  Although the USDA has affirmed its belief that their revision is legal, the WTO hasn't hazarded an opinion and the USTR can express their approval of the rewrite as often as they wish, but....the only opinion that will count will be the one issued by the WTO in about 10 years.

In the meantime. Canada will retaliate with serious tariffs and one of the friendliest and most financially beneficial international borders in the world will 'thicken' as Mr. Ritz put it.  Measures will be implemented that could cost hundreds of millions in trade and tens of thousands of jobs.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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David Brewbaker    
Iowa  |  November, 09, 2013 at 09:05 AM

The Perfect Storm. COOL Keeping Foreign Beef Out,$4.00 Corn & Feedlot Capacity Down 8%. Can You Say Yahoo!

kenny    
North Dakota  |  November, 09, 2013 at 01:16 PM

Gerry go back to Canada this is our country. Cool will be as good for Canada as it will be for the US.

Kenny    
North Dakota  |  November, 09, 2013 at 01:25 PM

Gerry go home this is our country. Cool will as good for Canada as it will for the US.

Jack C Pickard    
Weatherford, Texas  |  November, 09, 2013 at 08:05 PM

Agenda 21 at it's worst and of course President Obama and his lackeys at Food and Drug Administration are for it. Wake up people and learn what this is all really about. Go online type in Agenda 21 and learn something for a change. This is all something we can all do without.

rick    
November, 11, 2013 at 06:29 AM

I'm sorry if the Canadians are annoyed by these labeling rules but in a modern complex gobal food system where food can and does come from anywhere in the world and move across multiple borders people have the need and the right to know where their food comes from and how. There is a bigger picture here, not just canadian beef. I would suggest that they use this to their advantage. They should brand & market their beef as "Canadian" and sell it at a premium. It is well understood that for many years American packers have used canadian cattle & beef as a lower cost supply to the detriment of both American and Canadian producers. Some years ago I would watch truckload after truckload of canadian cull dairy cows & canadian beef come across the border due to the 50-60% exchange rate and subsidied by the Canadian dairy quota system. I suspect that this is not about Canadian cattle farmers but rather the inconvienence to multinational beef packers & processors.

Chuck    
Kansas  |  November, 11, 2013 at 09:53 AM

For those of you not familiar with Jack's reference to Agenda 21, here is a definition taken from Wikipedia: Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development.[1] It is a product of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It is an action agenda for the UN, other multilateral organizations, and individual governments around the world that can be executed at local, national, and global levels. The "21" in Agenda 21 refers to the 21st Century. It has been affirmed and modified at subsequent UN conferences. Agenda 21 is a voluntary program but those of the extreme right wing consider it an evil encroachment on America. It is paranoia at its worst.

Chuck    
Kansas  |  November, 11, 2013 at 09:53 AM

For those of you not familiar with Jack's reference to Agenda 21, here is a definition taken from Wikipedia: Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations with regard to sustainable development.[1] It is a product of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It is an action agenda for the UN, other multilateral organizations, and individual governments around the world that can be executed at local, national, and global levels. The "21" in Agenda 21 refers to the 21st Century. It has been affirmed and modified at subsequent UN conferences. Agenda 21 is a voluntary program but those of the extreme right wing consider it an evil encroachment on America. It is paranoia at its worst.

MikeS.    
Kansas  |  November, 11, 2013 at 12:02 PM

"Does Canada have country of origin labeling"? What power does the WTO have with a panel of three (with conflicting interest in the case) in telling the USA what we can do after we pass a law? The answer is they don't have any power it is strictly a biased direction. We need to step away from the WTO because most foreign countries have NO MONEY! The citizens in the USA have managed our funds and we can still buy the food we chose. If labeling cost money why do all the "brands" advertise or logo their trucks going up and down the highways? The fact remains those who argue so hard against COOL have never read the entire opinion ruling by U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. WE win 3 of the 4 issues of concern. Prices here have never been better and recently even "WALMART" has began preaching about buying USA products (I'm no fan of WalMart either because of preditory practices). WHAT does that tell you about what is changing in the USA!

Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT  |  November, 11, 2013 at 02:31 PM

I believe that Canada has to get WTO approval for any tariffs applied. Time for them to stop acting like they can do anything they want other than throw a lot of scare tactics at the US.

Steve    
Missouri  |  November, 12, 2013 at 05:41 AM

You best check your history son. What starts as voluntary usually becomes mandatory backed up by force including fines, imprisonment and killing if necessary. Only the ignorant are unaware that many members of the UN are nothing but dictators and organized criminal elements in what passes as government. People want to know where their food comes from since food safety standards set by the FDA and USDA are not those set by 2nd and 3rd world cesspools. If you have traveled much in foreign countries you would be more aware of the unsanitary conditions that others live and eat in. Some countries have even been caught spiking food with toxic chemicals to falsely elevate apparent protein content thereby commanding a higher price.

Steve    
Missouri  |  November, 12, 2013 at 05:41 AM

You best check your history son. What starts as voluntary usually becomes mandatory backed up by force including fines, imprisonment and killing if necessary. Only the ignorant are unaware that many members of the UN are nothing but dictators and organized criminal elements in what passes as government. People want to know where their food comes from since food safety standards set by the FDA and USDA are not those set by 2nd and 3rd world cesspools. If you have traveled much in foreign countries you would be more aware of the unsanitary conditions that others live and eat in. Some countries have even been caught spiking food with toxic chemicals to falsely elevate apparent protein content thereby commanding a higher price.

Chuck    
Kansas  |  November, 13, 2013 at 09:37 AM

Steve, I agree with your comment about third world countries and their lack of controls but I have two strong objections to the rest of your comment. (1) Your first 2 sentences are offensive and untrue. Keep the ultra right wing political rhetoric to a minimum, please, or show some respected back up to your claims. (2) Very little food produced in third world countries finds its way here. My column deals with Canadian products which are subject to essentially the same rules and regs that we have here.

Chuck    
Kansas  |  November, 13, 2013 at 09:37 AM

Steve, I agree with your comment about third world countries and their lack of controls but I have two strong objections to the rest of your comment. (1) Your first 2 sentences are offensive and untrue. Keep the ultra right wing political rhetoric to a minimum, please, or show some respected back up to your claims. (2) Very little food produced in third world countries finds its way here. My column deals with Canadian products which are subject to essentially the same rules and regs that we have here.


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