New WTO panel sought for COOL as lawsuit proceeds
A representative of the nation’s largest cattlemen’s group says it’s “really no surprise” that Canada and Mexico have asked the World Trade Organization to again review the U.S.’ mandatory country-of-origin meat labeling regulation.
The two countries asked the WTO last week to set up a compliance panel to discuss the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s revised labeling rule, which was unveiled in May and requires labels to identify where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.
The changes were made after a WTO appellate panel partly sided with the U.S.’ two neighbors in a dispute over the labeling law, which was called for in the 2008 Farm Bill and has sparked divisions within the American livestock industries.
The request by Canada and Mexico for a new panel to consider whether the U.S. was abiding by the world body’s earlier ruling was expected, said Chase Adams, spokesman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“It’s kind of the next step for them to move forward in their complaint,” Adams said. “We've said all along the rule doesn't meet … our trade obligations under the WTO. The amended rule did absolutely nothing to further the cause. If anything, it only made their case stronger.”
Canadian officials said in a statement Aug. 19 that the revised COOL measure will further hinder the ability of cattle and hog producers in that country to freely compete in the U.S. market. Canada has threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs on more than three dozen American commodities, including beef, pork, rice, corn, apples, cherries and wine.
The international maneuvers come as the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., heard oral arguments Aug. 27 on nearly a dozen meat industry groups’ motion for an injunction to stop the labeling rule from taking effect in November. A decision could be issued by the end of this week, said Jess Peterson, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association's executive vice president.
The injunction request is part of a lawsuit filed last month by the American Meat Institute, the NCBA and other livestock-related groups, claiming the labeling regulation violates the U.S. Constitution by compelling speech and that it exceeds the scope of its statutory mandate. The lawsuit names as defendants the USDA and the Agricultural Marketing Service.
The court last week granted a petition by farm groups that support the labeling rule to intervene in the lawsuit on the government's behalf. Those groups were the USCA, the National Farmers Union, the American Sheep Industry Association and the Consumer Federation of America.
Four additional groups, including the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, petitioned the court on Aug. 23 for the ability to help defend the labeling program. The groups assert the labeling rule benefits U.S. cattle and sheep producers who can differentiate and promote American livestock in an increasingly international supermarket meat case.
“This is truly a livestock producer and meat consumer-oriented filing and we have raised many issues that the court has not yet heard regarding COOL,” R-CALF chief executive officer Bill Bullard said in an email.
Bullard said R-CALF would be stepping up its fundraising activities to take part in the case, which he expects to cost $60,000 before it is through.
R-CALF petition to intervene in COOL lawsuit: http://www.r-calfusa.com/COOL/130826-intervenerDocuments.htm