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COOL repeal proposed in Senate

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., offered an amendment to a highway funding bill to repeal country of origin labeling requirements for beef, pork and poultry and stave off trade retaliation from Canada and Mexico.

The U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law requires meat to be labeled with the country where the animal from which it was derived was born, raised and harvested. (It also applies to fish, shellfish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and certain nuts.) The World Trade Organization (WTO) in May rejected an appeal by the United States of the international trade body’s October 2014 ruling that the COOL provisions on beef and pork discriminate against Canadian and Mexican animals that are sent to the United States to be fed out and processed.

The WTO decision allows punitive tariffs to be put on U.S. goods going into Canada and Mexico, which are asking for a combined $3.1 billion in retaliation. A WTO arbitrator now is determining the level of retaliation. According to Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes, the average U.S. pork producer is expected to lose $10 per hog beginning later this year and into next year, and based on his estimates, retaliation from Canada and Mexico against U.S. pork likely would double pork producer losses.

Also, Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced a bill that would repeal mandatory meat labeling and replace it with a voluntary labeling program. She, too, is expected to try to attach the legislation to the highway bill. But because Stabenow’s bill — like the existing law — calls for labels to provide information on where animals are born, raised and slaughtered, it still would necessitate segregation of Canadian and Mexican livestock, leading to discrimination against them — a violation of international trade rules. Canada and Mexico issued statements rejecting Stabenow’s voluntary approach and said they would continue to pursue retaliation.

“The only acceptable outcome remains for the United States to repeal COOL,” said Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and International Trade Minister Ed Fast.

Although the United States could seek a WTO ruling on voluntary labeling or any other legislative proposal to which Canada and Mexico object, that process could take as long as two years, and Canada and Mexico likely would continue retaliating pending a decision. The current WTO arbitration panel will not review any new U.S. COOL proposal but only will determine the level of retaliation.

The House in June passed on a 300-131 vote legislation repealing the COOL meat labeling provisions.

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