WTO Rules Against COOL

Country-of-origin labeling (COOL), which was written into law in the 2008 Farm Bill, has been ruled as a barrier to free trade by the World Trade Organization. The WTO ruled last Friday that COOL violates the trade agreements the US has with other countries, including Mexico and Canada.

When country-of-origin labeling became American law, Canada alleged that the mandatory COOL provisions appear to be inconsistent with the United States’ obligations under the WTO Agreement, which prevents technical barriers to trade. The US signed a treaty preventing technical barriers to trade in 1979. Mexico soon joined Canada in opposing the country-of-origin labeling for fresh beef and pork by filing a trade complaint. The WTO panel said Friday that Canadian and Mexican livestock imports got “treatment less favorable than” US domestic livestock.

Under COOL, foreign cattle and pigs had to be segregated in US packing plants. Foreign animals also were required to have more documentation about where they came from and, in the case of cattle, had to have tags to indicate they were free of mad-cow disease. Canada and Mexico claim their cattle and hog exports dropped significantly because of the costs related to COOL.

The US trade representative’s office said it was considering all options, including appealing the decision; the US has 60 days to appeal. Should the US ignore the WTO decision, Canada and Mexico could ask for tariffs to offset their losses.

Many US agriculture and environmental groups are upset with the decision, saying the ruling violates a consumer’s right to know where their food comes from. 

Is COOL “protectionist” labeling, or a tool to inform consumers about the source of their food. Would repealing COOL lead to unsafe imports of beef or pork? Let us know what you think.

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