Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Voluntary country-origin labeling only reasonable solution, says Farmers Union president

Country-of-origin labeling appears to be dead, after losing its final appeal with the World Trade Organization, "where Canada and Mexico, with support from the multi-national meat packing industry, charged that COOL was undermining their meat exports to the U.S. and costing them lots of money," National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson opines for Agri-Pulse. COOL was recently repealed by the House but could still be revived by the Senate in the form of a voluntary "Made in the USA" label, where "consumers win, producers win, our trading partners win and the WTO ruling becomes a moot point." It's worth noting that there are serious questions whether the compromise would be legal under the WTO rulings.

Here's an excerpt from Johnson's column:
Roger Johnson
The bill is the only politically viable means of preventing Congress from completely stripping away a clear national label for livestock born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. It mandates the development of a clear, strong and honest “made in the USA” label that we know consumers want. And it defangs the WTO ruling by making the law voluntary, not mandatory. Consumers win, producers win, our trading partners win and the WTO ruling becomes a moot point.

Yes, international trade laws are being used to overturn a very popular domestic food policy, and we don't like that. But that is the reality of the world we live in and something that we should all consider before rushing into future trade agreements.

Canada and Mexico both suggested the adoption of a voluntary system in the 2012 WTO Appellate Body Report, and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) noted that repealing the mandatory requirement and replacing it with a voluntary system has the "potential to constitute compliance with U.S. WTO obligations.” That gives voluntary COOL a green light in every direction.

National Farmers Union (NFU) has championed mandatory COOL for three decades, so this clearly wasn't an easy pill to swallow. But it is the only way to retain some semblance of clear and accurate food labeling that allows consumers to know where their food comes from, and it offers farmers and ranchers an avenue to allow that to happen.

Of course, the repeated beatings that COOL received at the WTO have opened the door for those who have always opposed food labeling in the Senate to lead the charge for complete repeal. In fact, a bill sponsored by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts would repeal COOL completely and allow packers to determine their own definition of what a product of the U.S. is. The multinational meat packers would undoubtedly use it to go back to deceiving consumers into believing that foreign meat was a product of the U.S. when it is not. The Hoeven-Stabenow alternative would prevent those packers from such deceptive practices by requiring that in order for any meat to be labeled as product of the U.S. that meat must be from an animal that was born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.

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