The World Trade Organization announced last Friday it has ruled in support of complaints by Canada and Mexico that U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling violates global trade rules and unjustly harms agricultural commerce. COOL was a contentious issue when enacted under the 2008 Farm Bill, and remains contentious today, with livestock groups offering distinctly different reactions to the latest ruling.
NCBA VP Government Affairs Colin Woodall expressed his organization’s support for the ruling. "This is a strong ruling from the World Trade Organization that proves COOL was not only a disservice to U.S. cattlemen and women but also contained far-reaching implications for two of the most important trade partners for U.S. agriculture,” Woodall says. “NCBA strongly advises the United States not to appeal this ruling. Instead, we urge U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to work with NCBA and other pro-trade organizations to apply pressure on Congress to bring the United States into WTO compliance across the board. We must act quickly before U.S. farmers and ranchers once again face unnecessary and unfortunate retaliatory tariffs on their products.
"This ruling solidifies our concerns that COOL would have extensive trade implications as NCBA expressed during 2008 Farm Bill deliberations. U.S. livestock producers have yet to see any financial benefit from COOL provisions. In many cases, ranchers who feed imported cattle have incurred significant discounts, which have not been offset by benefits proponents of COOL claimed would be available. Just as importantly, cattlemen have yet to discern any positive reaction from consumers regarding mandatory origin labeling.
The Texas Cattle Feeders Association reacted similarly. "I'm glad the WTO also recognizes the absurdity of this law," TCFA Chairman Jim Peters said in response to the ruling. "Mandatory COOL hasn't done what its proponents promised. In fact, it's done the complete opposite, adding unnecessary costs throughout the production chain without a return on investment. Mandatory COOL has cost American, Mexican and Canadian cattle producers millions, confused consumers and antagonized the two largest importers of U.S. beef. I hope the U.S. government will do the right thing for our industry and choose not to appeal."
R-CALF USA, however, has long supported the COOL regulations, and issued a news release titled “U.S. sovereignty usurped by WTO’s COOL decision.”
The group had this to say about the WTO panel that issued the ruling: “The panel consists of a diplomat from Pakistan – the country that harbored the world’s most dangerous terrorist, Osama Bin Laden; a diplomat from Switzerland; and, a diplomat who is a former WTO employee.”
The release goes on to say the complaint against the United States’ COOL law “was filed with the WTO in 2008 by livestock importers Canada, which introduced mad cow disease into the U.S., and Mexico, which continually reintroduces bovine tuberculosis (TB) into the United States. Joining the complaint as third parties were 12 additional countries, including China, which has a long history of importing tainted products into the United States.”
“We’re not surprised that a panel of countries that want to weaken the U.S. would support complaints by countries that want more control over our U.S. food supply. The WTO is trying to usurp our nation’s sovereignty,” says R-CALF USA COOL Committee Chair Mike Schultz. “Since when do we allow an international tribunal to dictate to our U.S. Congress what is or is not a legitimate objective of providing information to United States’ citizens?”