Claim says U.S. discriminates against cattle producers

By Mitch Lies

Capital Press

ATLANTA -- A Canadian trade official said Jan. 10 she is confident Canada will prevail in a trade dispute over the U.S. country-of-origin labeling law.

Canada filed a claim in October with the World Trade Organization. The WTO in November agreed to take up the dispute and formed a settlement panel, and a ruling is expected in July.

In the dispute, Canada claims the U.S. law unfairly discriminates against Canadian cattle producers.

"I feel like we have a good case, and we are hoping we have a positive outcome," said Pamela Simpson-Rose, first secretary for agriculture and fisheries for the Canadian embassy.

Speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual convention, Simpson-Rose said the mandatory COOL law imposed under the 2008 Farm Bill costs Canadian and U.S. producers alike.

U.S. producers no longer can "top off" lines with Canadian cattle to improve efficiencies, she said.

"That has become more difficult under the current country-of-origin labeling program, because now there are those labeling requirements, now there is segregation and the tracking," Simpson-Rose said.

Canadian Cattlemen's Association executive John Masswhol said the mandatory labeling law costs producers up to $40 a head -- in both U.S. and Canadian markets -- as U.S. buyers pass on the cost of complying with COOL.

"(Canadian) buyers know what is going on in the marketplace," Masswhol said. "If they know somebody else is paying a lower price, they'll pay a lower price."

Simpson-Rose offered two solutions to the dispute. One, commonly referred to as "slaughter confers origin," involves depicting an animal's country of origin based on where it is slaughtered. A second solution is to make the COOL program voluntary.

"Those are two things that we see would be workable, but still allow those who want to (to) be able to buy American beef ," she said.

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