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U.S. Livestock Groups Vow to Defeat Farm Bill Over COOL

2014 Farm Bill Offers No “Fix” to Country-of-Origin Labelling Rules

By Amanda Brodhagen,

Late Monday, U.S. farm policy makers approved a farm bill that will be voted on by the House on Wednesday. The U.S Department of Agriculture’s highly controversial meat labelling rule, also known as country-of-origin, or COOL, was left intact, at least for now.

American livestock groups said Tuesday that they “strongly oppose” the measure, due to growing retaliatory concerns. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council said they will “actively oppose final passage of the farm bill,” if Congress fails to remove COOL from the legislation.

COOL is controversial, as it could make way for retaliatory tariff strikes from Canada and Mexico if the World Trade Organization (WTO) finds the meat rules fail to comply with trade obligations. Canada and Mexico have filed a complaint with the WTO. A hearing is set for next month.

“We now face the real prospect of retaliation from Canada and Mexico,” said Scott George, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

George says NCBA has been in the midst of farm bill talks for over the past three years. The first in 2012, again in 2013 and now in 2014.  He calls the farm legislation a “slap in the face” to American livestock producers. George and others believe that it’s only a matter of time before the WTO rules in favour of Canada and Mexico.

“This program [COOL] was created without the consent of producers,” explains George. “We are disappointed in all members of congress and especially the members of the conference committee,” he said.

However, the livestock groups say they will try and defeat the farm bill.“We believe that if the bill is killed it can go back to the conference committee,” said Randy Spronk, president of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

While the farm bill does contain disaster-relief funding, something which the livestock lobby groups have been asking for, they would rather give it up than see COOL remain in the farm bill.

Spronk says the livestock groups “feel very confident” that they have enough votes to stop the bill’s final passage. “We are finding a lot of support in the halls of congress for repealing this…if its not fixed,” he said.

While the groups are confident that they have garnered enough votes to prevent the bill from passing, they also know that there is a possibility that they could loose. They’re in it for the long haul.

Trade disputes can often drag out for extended periods of time.  If Canada and Mexico succeed in making their case that the May 23 rule is non compliant with WTO free trade commitments, retaliation will become even more likely.

If the WTO rules in favour of Canada and Mexico, their lists of products would then be sent to an arbitrator, where they would decide what stays on the list, and put a dollar amount on each product. This  step along the process could take up to six months to complete. From start the finish, the dispute could potentially take two years to resolve.

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