In a letter sent today to President Barack Obama and Senate agriculture committee leaders, R-CALF USA provided a plan forward for the U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. On Monday, December 7, 2015, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to announce the amount of monetary damages the international tribunal will authorize Canada and Mexico to recover through retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports.
The WTO is expected to authorize some level of retaliatory tariffs because it previously agreed that Canadian and Mexican livestock exports are harmed because the U.S. requires packers and retailers to inform U.S. consumers about the origin of meat produced from imported livestock.
The group disagrees with the notion that the forthcoming WTO announcement will signal the end of the U.S. mandatory COOL law for beef, pork and chicken.
“In no way has the United States exhausted its remedies for preserving mandatory COOL for meat, which a 2014 Consumer Reports survey shows is supported by 90 percent of U.S. consumers.”
The letter recommends that the United States now pursue diplomacy to resolve the COOL dispute. It urged the President and Congress to:
1. Take no legislative action whatsoever to repeal mandatory COOL or weaken it by replacing it with an ineffectual voluntary program.
2. Direct the U.S. trade ambassador to initiate trilateral negotiations with Canada and Mexico with the goals of preserving the mandatory COOL law; satisfying other disputes that Canada and Mexico have with the United States; and ensuring that Canada and Mexico agree to not impose retaliatory tariffs on products produced by any export-sensitive U.S.-based industries.
3. Direct the agriculture secretary to immediately initiate a rulemaking process to address some or all of the substantive criticisms the WTO has leveled against the mandatory COOL law.
Referring directly to an editorial written by National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson in support of voluntary COOL, the group’s letter cautions Congress and the President to not be misled by political pundits who claim that substituting mandatory COOL with a voluntary COOL program will fix COOL and solve the trade dispute once and for all.
“There is not a scintilla of evidence to support this absurd claim. Instead, there is overwhelming market evidence generated prior to the implementation of our mandatory COOL law that proves the opposite. That evidence irrefutably shows that when given the choice of whether or not to label meat as to its country of origin, U.S. meatpackers choose overwhelmingly to not label meat.
“If the Congress and the President were to capitulate to the WTO’s effort to force repeal or weakening of our mandatory COOL law at this early juncture, without first exhausting the diplomatic remedies described above, the United States’ global standing will be severely compromised. This is because surrender at this junction will constitute a lack of resolve to defend and protect the laws of the United States of America against foreign interference, particularly since the U.S. has pursued these post-decision remedies in other WTO cases, e.g., the long-running dolphin-safe tuna labeling case,” the letter states.
“Domestic cattle prices are now collapsing in the wake of rising beef imports from around the world and more and more countries are seeking approval to export their meat to the United States. Consequently, U.S. cattle producers need mandatory COOL now more than ever so they can differentiate and showcase their domestic beef to domestic consumers.
“Please help us maintain a functional, competitive market for beef by preserving our mandatory COOL law,” the letter concludes.
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is the largest producer-only cattle trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.