U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Ag Committee, released an alternative Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) legislative proposal she said offers a pathway forward in the wake of the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling.

The Senate Ag Committee, chaired by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), will hold a hearing on COOL and threatened trade retaliation by Mexico and Canada. The hearing is scheduled for June 25, 10 a.m., in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.

On June 10, the U.S. House voted to repeal COOL requirements for most meats, approving H.R. 2393 (the COOL Amendments Act of 2015).

Read: House approves COOL repeal measure

Stabenow said her draft proposal is modeled on WTO-consistent standards, and affirms voluntary labels for beef and pork.

A link to Stabenow’s proposal can be found here.

“COOL serves an important role for consumers and industry,” Stabenow said. However, the WTO has been clear that we must find a solution that is consistent with our international trade obligations. This proposal offers a viable alternative and I look forward to discussing it at our hearing and with my colleagues in the Senate as we work to come to agreement on a bipartisan solution.”

In May 2015, the WTO ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico in their case against the United States. As a result, Stabenow’s draft proposal would remove beef and pork mandatory labeling provisions under COOL and put in its place a completely voluntary “Product of the U.S.” label.

More information on the Senate Ag Committee hearing, including the witness list, can be found here.

Conaway critical of proposal

House Ag Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas) said Stabenow's proposal contradicts the House-passed bill (H.R. 2393), leaving in place several burdensome mandatory labeling requirements.

“Any conversation about a voluntary program must be preceded by a full repeal of COOL, as we have an obligation to our trading partners to come into compliance,” he said. “Earlier this month, an overwhelming majority of 300 House members supported H.R. 2393, a bill that not only brings us into compliance with our trade commitments and avoids harmful retaliation; it also ensures stability in the marketplace and offers relief from burdensome compliance costs through the repeal of mandatory labeling requirements for beef, pork and chicken.

“These labeling requirements are costly for producers, burdensome for the entire supply chain, and provide no quantifiable benefits for consumers,” Conaway continued. “By leaving in place a host of federally mandated requirements, Sen. Stabenow’s bill still creates unnecessary compliance costs and prolongs this failed experiment. After four WTO rulings against the U.S. for mandatory COOL, it is time to abandon this program and ensure certainty in the marketplace.”