American ranchers in court to bring back country-of-origin labeling

An organization representing U.S. cattle ranchers announced this week the beginning of court action to bring back mandatory country of origin labeling for meat.

At the end of February 2016 the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service repealed the origin labeling requirement with an amendment to the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations. It removed the labeling requirement for muscle cuts of beef and pork, and ground beef and pork.

This was the final step for complying with several World Trade Organization (WTO) decisions. Following complaints initiated by Canada and Mexico in 2011, the WTO repeatedly ruled that U.S. COOL requirements for beef and pork are discriminatory and are in violation of the United States’ international trade obligations. In December 2015 a WTO arbitrator ruled that Canada and Mexico could retaliate with punitive duties on U.S. goods if COOL was not repealed. In order to avoid Canadian and Mexican duties the U.S. stopped applying the requirement in December 2015.

The new court action alleges that “the USDA regulations violate the text of the Meat Inspection Act, which requires, for instance, that the more than 800 million pounds of the beef raised and butchered annually in other countries and then imported to the United States should include labeling indicating the meat’s country of origin.” It claims that “Despite those current USDA rules, however, multinational companies sell meat raised and slaughtered abroad with a “Product of USA” label alongside truly domestic products raised by U.S. ranchers.”

In its news release the organization representing the cattle ranchers also claims that COOL is expected to be a key issue in the soon to start NAFTA re-negotiations.

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