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Agricultural News

U.S. Cattlemen's Association Supports WTO COOL Appeal Process, Urges Vigorous Defense

Fri, 17 Feb 2012 15:14:40 CST

U.S. Cattlemen's Association Supports WTO COOL Appeal Process, Urges Vigorous Defense The U.S. Cattlemen's Association (USCA) said that it fully supports a vigorous appeal of the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement panel's ruling on U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL). The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) must file its intent to appeal by March 23. USCA President Jon Wooster, San Lucas, California said USCA is actively engaged in the matter and will continue working with the Obama administration as the appeals process unfolds.     

The dispute settlement panel proceedings were initiated in 2008 when Canada and Mexico filed a complaint with the WTO alleging that U.S. COOL requirements were designed to achieve a protectionist objective and argued that COOL requirements breached WTO obligations by discriminating against Canadian and Mexican livestock exports to the U.S. The dispute panel's extensive report affirmed the right of the U.S. to require country of origin labeling for meat products, but disagreed with specific implementation measures.

Under COOL, there are four categories of country of origin labels to be applied to muscle cuts and a fifth label is reserved for ground meat. Label "A" is reserved for "U.S. Origin" meat and is applied to meat derived only from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. Label "B", or the "Multiple Countries of Origin" label, is used on meat derived from animals not exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. Label "C" is used for meat derived from animals imported into the U.S. just prior to slaughter. Label "D" is used for foreign country of origin meat. The ground meat labels list all "reasonably possible" countries of origin of the animals from which the meat is derived. Canada and Mexico alleged in their WTO complaint that their respective livestock industries were at a competitive disadvantage by COOL because of higher segregation costs at the point of harvest for foreign cattle.

"Contrary to the misinformation some groups insist on spreading, the dispute settlement panel affirmed the right of the United States to require country of origin labeling for meat," said Leo McDonnell, USCA Director Emeritus. "The bottom line is that our foreign competitors and the packing industry want to weaken the eligibility requirements for the "A" label, ensuring their meat supply is a generic product that can be marketed under the guise of the U.S. born, raised and processed label. Their argument is that feeding or processing a live animal is substantial transformation and that the meat derived from that carcass qualifies for the "A" label. The "A Label" meat is the most desired category by consumers, packers and retailers and it provides price discovery for all categories of meat. Differentiation of product and branding of product provides for a more competitive pricing structure that ultimately benefits all producers."

"What gets entirely lost in this argument is the consumer's right to truth in labeling and U.S. cattle producers who have a right to differentiate their product in the retail case," continued McDonnell.   "Following the dispute panel's ruling, some U.S. cattle groups have urged the Administration not to appeal and stated publicly that the solutions lie in making statutory changes to, or weakening, the COOL law. This fractured message undermines U.S. cattle producers. Fortunately, 19 U.S. Senators, led by Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) stepped up for the U.S. cattle industry and sent a letter to the Obama Administration urging it to maintain its support and defense of COOL at the WTO level."

A newly-released study titled "Navigating the Product Mindset: Food Industry Report" analyzes the differences between consumer and manufacturer perceptions regarding the make-up of today's food industry and it finds that the vast majority of manufacturers polled believe there is a distinct correlation between the perceived quality of unprocessed food products and the country of origin. The study also finds that more than 50% of consumers also believe the country of origin of food products will become more important over the next five years.

Danni Beer, USCA Director and COOL Committee Chairwoman said, "Perception is reality. Go to your local grocery store and take a look at the meat labels in the retail case. You'll discover that retailers are demanding meat labeled as U.S. origin and that's because consumers are demanding it and purchasing it. Whether consumers prefer a product of the U.S. over one from Canada is their decision to make and the ability to identify the difference in origin should be readily available to consumers so they can make informed purchases. I am optimistic that the WTO appeals process will ultimately keep the consumers' best interests in mind. I applaud the amount of resources and attention the Obama Administration has devoted to this issue and I am confident the Administration will mount a vigorous appeal to the dispute panel's flawed decision."



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