The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


U.S. to appeal WTO ruling against COOL

The U.S. government has decided to appeal the World Trade Organization ruling against the U.S. program of country-of-origin labeling for red meat.

A WTO panel found that the U.S. program discriminated against Canadian and Mexican beef and pork, but affirmed the U.S. government’s right to label meat by country-of-origin. The Canadian and Mexican governments brought the case against the United States.

“Canada is deeply disappointed with the U.S. decision to appeal the WTO ruling on COOL,” said Canadian Minister of International Trade Ed Fast and Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Gerry Ritz said in a joint statement.

“Canada fully expected the United States to live up to its international trade obligations and comply with the WTO ruling, which reaffirms Canada’s long-standing view that the revised U.S. COOL measure is blatantly protectionist and fails to comply with the WTO’s original ruling against it,” the statement continued.

“With this delay, the United States is yet again preventing both of our countries from enjoying the benefits of freer and more open trade and is hurting farmers, ranchers and workers in the United States and Canada.”

“We are confident that the WTO Appellate Body in the compliance process will uphold the principal finding of the report: that the amended U.S. COOL measure discriminates against Canadian livestock. That finding marks another clear victory for Canada and recognizes the integrated nature of the North American supply chain.”

Two U.S. farm groups, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farmers Union, issued statements today praising the decision.

“USCA is pleased that the U.S. is appealing from the panel's decision,” said President Danni Beer, a South Dakota rancher.

“This has been a long process but the panel's rulings appear to be incorrect in a number of respects,” Beer said.

“We look forward to having the Appellate Body review those matters properly appealed to it. COOL is important to consumers and to cattle producers in the United States trying to have the origin of their product communicated to the end user. We appreciate the support from the administration and from many in Congress to defend this critical legislation and agency regulations."

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said in a statement, “The decision today by the USTR to appeal the WTO ruling on COOL is the right thing to do for American family farmers, ranchers and consumers.”

“The October WTO ruling found once again that the COOL law is WTO-compliant and acknowledged that the May 2013 USDA regulations were a significant improvement in terms of providing more accurate information to consumers,” Johnson said.

“Nonetheless, the WTO incorrectly found the rules were noncompliant and an appeal is the obvious course of action.”

Johnson also urged Congress to leave the popular labeling law alone and allow the WTO process to run its course.

“The multinational meatpacking industry continues to urge Congress to repeal COOL laws before the WTO process runs its course,” said Johnson. “These are inappropriate attempts to prevent consumers from having access to basic information about their food. Congress should ignore these scare tactics and allow the WTO process to play out before acting prematurely.”

“American consumers have been crystal clear that they want to know where their food comes from and family farmers and ranchers are proud to provide it,” said Johnson.

Statements by the Canadian officials and Johnson showed the direct conflict between Canadian and U.S. farmers and ranchers.

The Canadian officials said, “Our government will always stand with our farmers and ranchers, and we will take whatever steps may be necessary, including retaliation, to achieve a fair resolution.”

Johnson said, “The decision by the USTR to appeal the WTO’s erroneous finding demonstrates full support for American family farmers, ranchers and consumers.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that USDA cannot find a way to handle the issue administratively, and that either Mexico and Canada or Congress will have to come up with ideas about how to do it.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said that she wants to come up with a solution and that she has met with Canadians to talk about how the issue could be resolved. Stabenow said she wants to avoid Canadian retaliation that could lead to a reduction in Canadian imports of Michigan-produced goods.

A group called the COOL Reform Coalition has urged Congress to put in a place “a contingency plan” that would avoid retaliation.

The COOL Reform Coalition is chaired by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers but also includes the Corn Refiners Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the North American Meat Association.