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COOL controversy still simmering


Jason Vance
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9731

Published: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013

Story source:

Ron Plain, 573-882-0134

COLUMBIA, Mo.– Country of Origin Labeling for meat products was written into the 2002 Farm Bill. Almost a dozen years later, however, the saga continues.

When Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) went into effect for red meats in 2009, Mexico and Canada complained to the World Trade Organization that the rules did not comply with international agreements. WTO ruled in favor of Mexico and Canada, prompting the USDA to rewrite COOL. However, Canada and Mexico have also challenged the revised rules, which went into effect this year.

Ron Plain, an agricultural economist with University of Missouri Extension, gave an update on COOL at the recent 2013 Missouri Swine Institute in Columbia. He told the audience that he expects WTO will rule against the United States again and the U.S. will appeal, so the can will keep being “kicked down the road.”

Mexico and Canada have argued that the primary purpose of COOL’s record-keeping requirements is not to inform consumers but to discourage U.S. packers from handling livestock from Mexico or Canada.

Joining Canada and Mexico in their complaint to the WTO are two groups representing U.S. meatpackers: the American Meat Institute and the American Association of Meat Processors.

The U.S. slaughters a large number of cattle from Mexico and Canada, as well as a large number of hogs from Canada. Plain says COOL puts packers in a bind: Segregating the meat is going to be very expensive, but if they stop slaughtering animals from Canada and Mexico, packers won’t have enough to operate some plants.

The issue has been dragging on for more than a decade and Plain says there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. Meanwhile, the revised rules remain in effect.

“The legal appeals process to the WTO is a very long, drawn-out process,” he says. “I think we are set on a course that is going to last for some time to come.”