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U.S. Meat Labeling WTO Dispute Hearing Set

By Amanda Brodhagen,

The World Trade Organization (WTO) announced Tuesday that a public hearing on the controversial mandatory country of origin labeling rule, also known as COOL, has been set for Feb. 18 and 19.  The hearing will take place at WTO’s main office in Geneva, Switzerland.

Country of origin labeling is a U.S. law enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that requires meat to be labeled to include information on where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. An example label might be “Born in Canada, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States.”

Since the measure was first introduced it has been a contentious topic for both Canada and Mexico who strongly oppose the meat labeling law. It was put in the 2002 farm bill, amended by the 2008 farm bill, but the final rule to implement labeling didn’t take effect until March 16, 2009.

When the COOL rules took effect, Canada and Mexico challenged the law, making the case that it violates WTO trade commitments by favoring U.S. livestock over imported animals. In Nov. 2011, the WTO sided with Canada and Mexico ruling that USDA’s arguments that COOL provides more complete information to consumers was invalid.

The U.S. decided to appeal the WTO ruling in March 2012, but the original decision was upheld. The WTO then set a May 23, 2013 deadline for the U.S. to meet compliance, but the USDA instead created a final rule requiring labels to include information on where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The final rule also prohibited comingling of meat from different origins, which until then was a common industry practice.

In July 2013, Canada and Mexico COOL opponents filed a suit, and tried to put a stop to the implementation of USDA’s final rule. The suit did not prevail in Canada and Mexico’s favour; the court denied granting a preliminary injunction.

The February WTO hearing is the latest development in the ongoing meat labeling dispute. A resolution process could take up to 18 to 24 months to complete.


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