The threat of retaliation from Canada and Mexico is forcing American lawmakers and farm groups to weigh whether it’s worth maintaining the mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) rules for meat.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, which describes itself as the largest general farm organization in the U.S., announced Wednesday it has decided to back a bill that would repeal COOL. The Farm Bureau previously supported COOL, as long as it conformed to international trade rules.
“While we were hopeful that the WTO would have found COOL to be legal, it is now clear that we are far better off with no mandatory labeling for beef, pork and chicken, which should end threats of retaliation by our two closest trading partners,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.
Last week, after the WTO issued its fourth and final ruling against COOL, the House Agriculture Committee approved a bill to repeal the labeling requirements. A vote in the House on the bill will likely happen in early June. If passed, it’s expected the legislation would face stronger opposition in the Senate.
“We are pleased the House Agriculture Committee has moved to repeal country of origin labeling for beef, pork and chicken, and we ask the full House to do likewise,” said Stallman. “Whatever benefits labeling brought farmers and ranchers, the WTO ruled that the process of separating the herds was too cumbersome to permit free trade. Canada and Mexico could retaliate with $2 billion in tariffs against U.S. food if we don’t stop the labeling program.”
The Farm Bureau joins the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council and North American Meat Institute in calling for repeal of the legislation.
The National Farmers Union and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association remain supportive of the labeling rules, and are asking Congress to at least wait until the WTO has authorized retaliation.
“The House Agriculture Committee has succumbed to lobbying and scare tactics from foreign governments and multinational meatpackers and inserted itself prematurely into the WTO process by voting for a bill to repeal COOL,” said NFU president Roger Johnson last week. “This bill allows for unlabeled Chinese chicken to be imported into the U.S., extends well beyond the scope of the WTO dispute, and strips consumers of information they want. NFU urges Congress to vote against the COOL repeal bill and allow the ongoing WTO process to play out.”