Congressional repeal of mandatory country of origin labeling in the $1.15 trillion federal spending bill passed Dec. 18 is an early Christmas gift for some and a lump of coal for others in the U.S. livestock industry.
Repeal of the law as it applies to U.S. labels for beef and pork has been a growing topic in livestock circles for several years, coming to a head this month when the World Trade Organization sanctioned $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports by Canada and Mexico.
The long-running dispute between the U.S. and its two largest trading partners resulted in four WTO rulings against the U.S. — found to be in violation of trade obligations by COOL’s discrimination against cattle and hogs imported from Canada and cattle from Mexico.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association calls the COOL repeal a “significant victory for America’s cattle producers.”
“COOL has plagued our industry for many years now, costing us millions and driving us to the brink of retaliation from two of our largest trading partners,” NCBA President Philip Ellis said in a press release following passage of the spending bill.
“Cattle producers have had to bear the cost of this failed program for far too long, he said.
Pork producers also welcome the repeal.
America’s pork producers are grateful that lawmakers recognized the economic harm producers faced from retaliation, National Pork Producers Council President Ron Prestage said in a press release.
“I know tariffs on U.S. pork would have been devastating to me and other pork producers,” he said.
Pork producers are currently losing money on each hog marketed, and those losses would have been exacerbated significantly under retaliation from Canada and Mexico, NPPC contends.
North American Meat Institute President and CEO Barry Carpenter said in a statement a repeal of the “costly trade barrier” was urgently needed.
“The marketplace, with consumers as drivers, should determine what labeling is meaningful and should appear on meat products – not protectionists who fear free and unfettered trade,” he said.
Other groups representing livestock producers are outraged by the repeal and its last-minute inclusion as a rider in the spending bill.
National Farmers Union, which contends changing the mandatory program to voluntary status would solve the WTO dispute, is “deeply frustrated and angered” over the repeal, NFU President Roger Johnson stated in a press release.
The language of the repeal not only applies to the disputed muscle cuts of beef and pork but extends the repeal to trade-compliant ground beef and ground pork, he said.
“Clearly this language was produced by long-time COOL opponents who legislated in the dark of night under the guise of solving an issue, when really their intentions completely undermine the will of the American consumers and producers,” he said.
The repeal once again allows meatpackers to deliberately deceive consumers, he said.
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said Congress underhandedly is depriving consumers of their right to know where the beef and pork families consume was born, raised and slaughtered.
“In secret and without debate, congressional leaders added the repeal of COOL in a must-pass spending bill knowing they could accomplish their self-serving ends without the risk of public input or debate,” he said.
“This is government at its worse,” he said.
Congressional leaders are helping politically powerful multinational meatpackers to hide the origin of the beef they are importing, including beef from developing countries that are not required to have food safety systems at least equal to the U.S., he said.
Colin Woodall, NCBA vice president of government affairs, said COOL had noble beginnings with the idea that consumers would pay more for products labeled as products of the U.S. But unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. Instead COOL has plagued the beef industry with significant costs and caused problems on Capitol Hill and with trading partners, he said.