USDA published its final mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule to try and come into compliance with the World Trade Organization (WTO) guidelines. The final rule modifies the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities, requiring the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps (born, raised, slaughtered) occurred and removes the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts. This final rule is very similar to what USDA proposed in 2003, which met strong resistance from industry and producers and led to the compromise in the 2008 farm bill. The rule goes into effect immediately. This means that producers and companies will have to incur costs for implementation even before the WTO rules whether the new U.S. rule is in compliance.
Canada and Mexico have indicated they will pursue their rights under the WTO. If the WTO rules in their favor they would retaliate. In a statement, the Canadian government said, “Canada is extremely disappointed with the regulatory changes put forward by the United States today with respect to COOL. These changes will not bring the United States into compliance with its WTO obligations. These changes will increase discrimination against Canadian cattle and hogs and increase damages to industry on both sides of the border. Canada will consider all options at its disposal, including, if necessary, the use of retaliatory measures.”
The National Farmers Union, a long-time advocate for COOL, stated, “We further applaud the administration for deciding to take a proactive approach in bringing COOL into compliance by providing more information on the origins of our food, instead of simply watering down the process.” The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association commented, “We are deeply disappointed with this short-sighted action by the USDA. Our largest trading partners have already said that these provisions will not bring the United States into compliance with our WTO obligations and will result in increased discrimination against imported products and in turn retaliatory tariffs or other authorized trade sanctions.” The American Meat Institute said, “The decision to proceed with a rule that is more costly, complex and burdensome than the earlier version, when WTO and our trading partners have sent strong signals that this is no ‘fix,’ shows a reckless disregard for trade relations and for companies whose very survival is at risk because they rely upon imported livestock.”