American groups and politicians have indicated an interest in reviving country-of-origin labeling
By Diego Flammini
The Canadian beef industry is keeping a close eye on discussions in the U.S.
During his Senate confirmation hearings in February, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he’d be willing to revisit country-of-origin labeling (COOL) protocols for meat products.
“I’m happy to work with you and your staff on anything that would allow us to advance country-of-origin labeling,” Vilsack said while answering a question from South Dakota Senator John Thune. “If there’s a way to get it WTO-compliant, I would be more than happy to work with you and look forward to that.”
The Obama Administration, where Vilsack first served as secretary of agriculture, tried to implement COOL regulations. These would’ve meant any meat sold in grocery stores would’ve been required to identify where the animal was born, raised and processed.
This led to successful World Trade Organization (WTO) challenges between 2009 and 2015 from Canada and Mexico, said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.
“It had a negative affect on feeder cattle we exported to the U.S.,” he told Farms.com. “We then had 17 plants taking Canadian cattle go down to four and then the cattle at those plants had to be segregated. We took the U.S. to the WTO and proved that COOL wasn’t complaint with the WTO rules. As a result of that, the U.S. repealed its mandatory country-of-origin labeling law.”
The United States Department of Agriculture officially repealed its COOL requirements in March 2016.
In addition to Vilsack bringing up COOL in February, an American cattle organization has voiced its support for the practice as well.
Also in February, R-CALF USA sent a proposed draft bill to Vilsack for Congress to consult when drawing up current COOL legislation.
The Canadian industry is willing to listen to discussions on COOL but those talks would have to prove COOL would do no harm to the sector, Laycraft said.
“It comes down to how it’s going to impact the exports of our live animals,” he said. “This would all fly in the face of the USMCA where we worked to have very integrated supply chains. We haven’t seen anything that would be WTO compliant and it would also have to prove beneficial to the industry and consumers. We haven’t seen that yet either.”