COOL dispute gains new life

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Last Friday, the U.S. Trade representative (USTR) announced it will appeal the World Trade Organization’s ruling claiming our mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) rules violate trade agreements. Early in the day, AgriTalk Radio’s Mike Adams discussed the decision with Tim Reif, general counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative office.

Reif stressed the administration’s commitment to protecting consumers by providing country-of-origin information on beef and pork products. The appeal, he says, dispute’s the WTO’s contention that COOL provides “less favorable treatment to Mexican and Canadian Livestock producers,” and that “the COOL statute is more trade restrictive than necessary to provide information to consumers.”

Reif explained that the WTO decision did not dispute the United States’ right to require country-of-origin labels, but objects to the ways the COOL statute was implemented.

Reif says he expects a decision from WTO on the appeal within two to three months.

NCBA quickly issued a statement expressing concern the appeal will do more harm than good.

"We are very disappointed in this decision. Instead of working diligently to bring the United States into WTO compliance, our government has opted to engage in an appeal process, which jeopardizes our strong trade relationship with Canada and Mexico, the two largest importers of U.S. beef,” says NCBA vice president Bob McCann. “An appeal is the wrong answer and a waste of valuable resources. This appeal will do nothing but escalate tension with our valuable trade partners and will prolong an issue that could be resolved quickly. We should be working toward a solution instead of creating a bigger problem.

"NCBA will engage with Canada and Mexico in order to prevent any retaliatory action that could occur from this unfortunate decision made by the U.S. government.

 "Cattlemen deserve a government that fights for and protects our opportunities. We need a government that not only demands WTO compliance of our trade partners but one that ensures the United States is abiding by these same guidelines." 

R-CALF USA, which has long supported mandatory COOL, reacted differently.

“We’re extremely thankful that our U.S. Trade Representative has chosen to defend our constitutionally-passed COOL law,” said R-CALF USA Region VI Director and COOL Committee Chair Mike Schultz. “But, we’re in a no-win situation regarding this frontal attack on our COOL law because our nation should not tolerate for an instant a foreign entity’s efforts to undermine our constitutionally-passed domestic laws in the first place.” Schultz explained that it is a sad state of affairs when our U.S. government kowtows to a One-World Government tribunal by playing within that foreign tribunal’s pseudo judicial process. 

 “Several powerful corporate industry groups are actually supporting the WTO’s efforts to undermine our U.S. COOL law, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the American Meat Institute (AMI),” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard adding, “These groups don’t want U.S. consumers to know if they are buying beef produced exclusively in the United States or if their beef was produced in Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, or any one of the more than a dozen countries where U.S. corporations source their beef.”

 Bullard said those corporate industry groups that support the WTO’s anti-COOL ruling do not want U.S. consumers to support U.S. farmers and ranchers by choosing to buy U.S. beef for their families.

 Bullard added that other groups have tried to sugar-coat the WTO’s anti-COOL ruling by claiming the ruling reinforced the United States’ right to implement a COOL program and only attacked the manner by which the United States’ COOL law was implemented. 

 “This is nothing more than semantics and the WTO is far too coy to have attacked our domestic law in any other way than it did. The fact is that the WTO accomplished its objective by ruling on the one hand that COOL was too rigid and treated foreign product less favorably than domestic product, but on the other hand, it ruled that COOL was too flexible and therefore nullified the COOL law’s objective.”

“The WTO’s anti-COOL ruling is nonsensical and baseless and we are confident the United States will prevail in this unenviable appeal,” concluded Schultz.

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El Paso  |  March, 26, 2012 at 09:48 AM

Ever since COOL went into effect, I know that Mexican cattle have sold for a 30.00 cwt discount. The implementation of COOL is the problem. It’s ironic that the whole world should obey laws and agreements, except the US. We are in a global economy and it’s a shame that the US would think we are a lone ranger country. I would hate to see the other countries that we do business with start with sanctions and isolate the US and cut off export income. We need to be careful that our arrogance doesn’t put the country into more of a tail spin than it is already in

Indiana  |  March, 26, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Linda: I think you may be mis-informed about world trade. The rest of the world does not really abide by the ideals of so-called "free trade". Try to buy an American car in Korea or US oranges in Japan. Every country in the world has some product they protect. Food security is about the most important concern to most country's consumers....and who can blame them?

Indiana  |  March, 26, 2012 at 10:01 AM

Consumers should have the right to information about the origin of the products they buy. With the lack of consistent product safety standards and regulation around the world it is important to know where your food comes from. Would you buy milk from China when you know that they have problems with melamine contamination? As a beef producer here in the US, I know where my steak comes from. Why shouldn't US consumers have the security of knowing the meat products they buy comes from the safest food supply system in the world?

El Paso  |  March, 26, 2012 at 11:52 AM

I appreciate the feedback. I understand about the importance of food security. I understand about Korea and Japan. However we are talking about an agreement between the US, Mexico and Canada. Canada has had issues with Mad Cow, as has the US. Not so with Mexico. I just think the great discount on these cattle coming in, which are fed and sold and exported at the same price domestic products are is demeaning. Mexico for one has an identification system in place where one can pin point the origin down to the birth place. Does the United States?

March, 26, 2012 at 10:05 AM

I am feel that the large beef processors in the US are not in favor of COOL as it hinders their ability to pass off imported beef as US beef based on the perception of almost all consumers that USDA inspected means US grown. I see this as unfair to the American cattle growers. It makes me question the jugement of the NCBA when they continually come in on the side of the large processors.

March, 27, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Too long out of school. This is an edit. The large beef processors in the US are not in favor of COOL. It hinders their ability to pass off imported beef as US beef due to the perception of consumers that( USDA inspected means US grown). If you dont believe this you need to do your own research. Ask everyone you know that is at least one generation or more removed from the farm, you will see. This is unfair to the American cattle growers. I question the jugement of the NCBA when they continually come in on the side of the large processors.

Wy.  |  March, 26, 2012 at 10:18 AM

When the rest of the world has the same livestock feed and human food standards and enforcment as the U.S.A. then I won't care about COOL

TX  |  March, 26, 2012 at 11:01 AM

I agree and our USDA wants to be able to track our livestock from farm to plate (NAIS) Yet we can't go to a supermarket or restaurant and know even what foreign country, much less foreign farm, a piece of meat they are selling comes from.

Mike S.    
Kansas  |  March, 26, 2012 at 11:59 AM

Country of Origin Labeling does not restrict trade to anyone. What it does do is give consumers the freedom and choice on where and from whom they buy their food from. COOL should be made even stronger and provide more clarity to our USA and global consumers. I hear the fear mongers mention our global positions. Understand that 80% of the worlds population makes less than $1,200.00 per year and the population explosion is going to continue. We can't help that but many need to learn to feed theirselves. The appeal filed was a great move and very well cordinated. Why NCBA and others don't support it is simple, they are wanting less in the industry not less and they do it by supporting cheap imports marked with a "inspected by the USDA" label. Our USA consumers and those globally deserve better. Tell the truth and give them more information not less. Why not provide the very best eating experience to the best market in the world? Labeling doesn't cost, it pays! Ask any USPB stockholder how "bad" it was last year! Packers make money and even more on cheap imports. I ask why some in the industry want less producers in this versus people like myself who want more? I would rather sell to more than sell to fewer any day of the week! Thanks for those who support COOL! It is the right thing to do! Mike S.

El Paso  |  March, 26, 2012 at 02:13 PM

Mike, we are blessed to be able to produce food not only for ourselves but for the rest of the world! If we couldn’t export ALL of the food we produce, the US economy would not be as you state ‘the best market in the world.’ So count your blessings that we have consumers not only here but abroad. Question: have you seen the packer margins lately? Calf prices are up because of low inventory and exceptional export markets. Let’s be careful not to be narrow minded and think only about consumers at home and not in large part, the hands that feed a lot of us.

COOL's a crock    
Colorado  |  March, 26, 2012 at 08:35 PM

What the proponents of the cool law have always neglected to state in their diatribe is that market research carried out has always determined consumers don't care about where their food comes from, only that it is safe to eat. Adding yet another hurdle to anyone in the food chain from producers to consumers only adds costs which will ultimately be borne by the lowest in that chain, the producer as all costs related to marketing only gets shuttled down the line untill there isn't ant further to go, hence the producers getting stuch with the bill. Just as demand pulls a saleable good through the chain the same would apply here. You can't "push" a product through to the consumers, they have to demand it.

Idaho  |  March, 26, 2012 at 10:44 PM

Tools will tell you where they are made . would you pay the same price for things made in China as you would in the US ?? If you think COOL is a crock why does every thing else have to tell where it is made ?

north dakota  |  March, 27, 2012 at 12:37 PM

Mexican cattle have always been sold at a discount, and its not because of COOL.

El Paso  |  March, 28, 2012 at 08:08 AM

Mexican Cattle have been sold at 10 discount in the past, not 30 with the packing facilities having to segregate under COOL

MI  |  March, 30, 2012 at 10:10 AM

This should be about US consumer choice. Consumers do want to know where their food originates and apparently they are making an impact with their food choices. They are selecting US grown beef over foreign grown beef. Challenging COOL is about profit and politics, not keeping consumer's choices. Taking away information from consumers will only make them more suspicious. COOL maybe doesn't help anyone but US producers, (ok) but it is the US consumer we are ultimately trying to keep happy, Right?

SD  |  April, 03, 2012 at 12:06 PM

Unfortunately, this first was about ranch politics, and the 'food activists' and anti-commercial cattle producers teamed up to promote COOL. Many consumers DO want to know the producer of their food, not simply the country. Some would prefer not to eat food from some other countries for their own reasons, which is fine. There IS choice available. Find the branded beef such as Harris Ranch and many others doing the labels if that is your choice. You will have to pay more, but they have more costs to produce their product. You CANNOT expect producers to absorb those additional costs.......or would you even want to, if you say you want "justice" for family farmers? You may have to look a little harder, and many private beef labels do sell and ship the meat. There are more and more places in cities, even small ones, where local meats are available. Like the best of anything, it may take more effort on the part of the consumer to find the special brands of beef and other meats.


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