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USDA keeps COOL, while attempting to meet WTO requirements

USDA keeps COOL, while attempting to meet WTO requirements

U.S. beefs up meat labeling rules, believes it has complied with international trade obligations

By Amanda Brodhagen,

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has added some enhancements to its controversial country-of-origin labeling (COOL) provisions for muscle cut meat, following a dispute with Canada and Mexico who filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) arguing that the U.S. meat labeling rules violated trade rules.

The final rule requires origin designations of meat muscle cuts to display information about where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The rule also no longer allows the commingling provision of muscle cuts. This provision tightens labeling requirements making them more specific. Meat from other countries may have labels like “Born in Canada, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States.” The USDA estimates the costs of the changes to range from $53.1 to $192.1 million. The agency says that the additional costs will be absorbed by packers, processors and retailers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the U.S. is confident that the new changes will bring COOL into trade compliance. The WTO ordered the U.S. to comply with a ruling issue made June 2012 and gave a timeframe for changes to be made by May 23, 2013 after the U.S. lost an appeal of an earlier WTO decision. The original COOL rule took effect March 2009. The final rule will be published in the May 24, 2013 Federal Register.        

Proponents of COOL like the National Farmers Union say that the new rules will provide consumers with more information about the origins of their meat. While opponents argue that the rule will increase production costs, making processing more difficult. Meat exporters in Canada and Mexico aren’t pleased with the most recent changes, saying that the new rules will cut deeper into cattle and hog exports to the United States. While both countries have been vocal in their displeasure with the new meat labeling provisions, Canada has been the only country to threaten a possible retaliatory strike against certain U.S. imports. It could take upwards of a month for the WTO to confirm if the U.S. changes are satisfactory.

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