The United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA), a supporter of U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL), says the industry does not need legislative intervention in the issue and urged federal policy-makers to reject requests for Congress to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to suspend indefinitely the U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL).
USCA expressed disappointment that a number of U.S. trade associations and other groups, led by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the North American Meat Association (NAMA) are asking Congress to intervene. NCBA and the other groups sent a joint letter dated June 26 to House and Senate agriculture leadership asking Congress to intervene in COOL before a decision by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on compliance matters is released publicly, which is expected in September.
"U.S. consumers have consistently expressed their desire to know the origin of the food they eat and providing enhanced consumer information is what COOL is about," said USCA President Jon Wooster, San Lucas, California.
He said his organization said is particularly troubled that the anti-COOL coalition would attempt to influence Congress with misinformation about the WTO process. "These groups are warning Congress about impending trade retaliation even before we have a decision from the WTO dispute panel about whether the Department of Agriculture's revised rules bring the program into compliance with trade obligations," said Wooster.
"The dispute panel's final report is expected to be released publicly in September. The parties involved - Canada, Mexico and the U.S. - then have 60 days to file appeals with the WTO Appellate Body. Appellate Body deliberations would take another 60 to 90 days or longer. If Canada or Mexico (should win) on one or more issues, they can file for the right to retaliate and the matter would likely go to an arbitrator, which would take another 60 days. Any trade retaliation must be authorized by the WTO. Retaliation by Canada and Mexico would only be permitted if they win on any issues in the challenge and that's something we will not know until the WTO renders its final report. We do not need any legislative intervention in COOL; instead, the WTO process must be allowed to conclude, which is not likely to happen until 2015.
"It is unfathomable why any U.S. group, particularly a cattle or livestock trade association, would want to breach the consumer trust and confidence COOL has established,” Wooster said. “U.S. cattle producers are proud of the beef they produce and they want to differentiate it for consumers. If we are to compete effectively in a growing global marketplace, we must retain the identity of U.S. beef and not allow our product to become a generic North American commodity.
"USCA is monitoring this matter closely and we are briefing our membership frequently as events unfold. I urge cattle producers to make contact with their elected officials and urge them to refrain from intervening in COOL and encourage them to support the right to label our beef as to its specific and accurate origin."