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Agricultural News

International COOL Ruling Runs Afoul of U.S. Court Decisions

Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:51:42 CDT

International COOL Ruling Runs Afoul of U.S. Court Decisions

The much anticipated ruling by the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding whether country of origin labeling (COOL) passes muster with the international tribunal was finally made public Monday. The U.S. COOL law requires retailers to inform consumers as to the origins of meat.

The WTO has, for the second time, found in favor of the complaining parties because, according to the WTO, the COOL law continues to treat imported livestock less favorably than that accorded to domestic livestock.

As it did in 2012, the WTO is again recommending that the United States take steps to bring COOL into compliance with the WTO's interpretation of the United States' obligations under the world's international trade laws.

"We anticipated this unfavorable WTO ruling and believe, as nearly one-third of the Senate believes, that the U.S. has the tools to address this ruling without weakening or suspending COOL," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

"While we will be reviewing this lengthy decision to determine what, if any, additional modifications should be made to COOL, we urge the United States to exercise its right to appeal this decision and we fully expect that this dispute over COOL will continue at the WTO for many more months if not years," Bullard added.

Congress first passed the consumer-friendly COOL law in 2002 but heated resistance from international meatpackers delayed its implementation until 2008. Almost immediately, Canada and Mexico, joined by world meat exporters Australia and Brazil, along with five other countries, challenged the U.S. law at the WTO.

In 2012 a three-member WTO panel ruled that livestock from Canada and Mexico were being treated less favorably than U.S. livestock under the COOL law and regulations.

Contrary to U.S. jurisprudence that would disallow such a blatant conflict of interest, one of the WTO's three-member panelists that decided the case in favor of Canada and Mexico was a Mexican national.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to appease the WTO the United States rewrote the implementing regulations for COOL in 2013. The new regulations improved COOL by removing loopholes that had allowed multinational meatpackers to mislabel exclusively U.S. meat with a mixed-country label. It also provided consumers more detailed information regarding where the animal from which the meat was derived was born, where it was raised and where it was slaughtered.

But Canada and Mexico renewed their complaints at the WTO alleging that livestock from their respective countries continue to be less competitive in the U.S. market under the new COOL regulations.

Canada and Mexico also attacked COOL in a lawsuit by filing arguments against COOL on behalf of their respective governments in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The U.S. court ruled against Canada and Mexico and concluded that COOL complies with the U.S. Constitution and that Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had authority to pass and implement the law, respectively.

Monday's WTO ruling in favor of Canada and Mexico creates a dilemma for the United States:

"On the one hand our U.S. courts have found COOL to be in full compliance with the United States' chosen form of government. On the other hand, the so-called world government, comprised of unelected and unappointed WTO officials, is now trying to supersede U.S. citizens' right of self-governance.

"Congress must weigh this WTO ruling against our U.S. Constitution and our U.S. sovereignty very carefully and not engage in a knee-jerk reaction, which is precisely what the multinational meatpackers that do not have any particular loyalties to the United States, are asking Congress to do through their request that funding for COOL be stricken from the 2015 appropriations bill," Bullard said.

Nearly one-third of the U.S. Senate recently sent a letter to the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee that essentially urges no knee-jerk reaction by Congress in response to the WTO decision.

The bipartisan Senate letter, drafted by Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), expressly states that "the United States government has tools to address the outcome, once the WTO process reaches finality, to ensure labeling remains consistent with our trade obligations."

"We fully agree with the Senators statement and we recommend that the United States exercise its right to appeal this WTO decision while simultaneously exploring our options to further strengthen COOL in the face of this international attack," Bullard commented.

"Congress should not capitulate to the WTO's and the multinational meatpackers' efforts to weaken our COOL law," Bullard said adding "we must take the time to carefully analyze this ruling and then formulate a strategy for preserving our important, pro-competitive COOL law for U.S. citizens who deserve to know where their food is produced."



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