Everyday, there's at least one new country-of-origin labeling story waiting in my e-mail.

The latest version questions the legality of the proposal, which is tied to the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill. Certainly, this is a worthy angle to consider, and quite possibly a way to get the cumbersome and inappropriate labeling concept to disappear altogether.

Mark Greenwood, AgStar Financial Services vice president, at least believes that the legality of COOL is worthy questioning. He also says, if COOL becomes mandatory in September 2004, participants of the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement will have plenty to say– and it won't be good. Indeed, COOL could damage important trade relations that  in recent years have just started to flourish.

Greenwood, believes that COOL already appears to be impacting U.S. trade.
 
Because COOL will demand verification of the animal's birth– perhaps even by a third-party verifier– all U.S. producers will have to bear the cost of confirming their herds' origin regardless if they've ever handled pigs from another country or not.

While COOL is originally "designed" to be a retail program, the responsibility will flow through the pork chain and ultimately land on the producers' shoulders. Some packers have already sent letters out to their producer suppliers to get them used to the demands that could come. Granted, the final COOL rules aren't even written yet, but the anticipitory wheel is in motion. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has just begun conducting it's many listening sessions, which it will use to draft the details of the rules. 

“The US pork industry exports about 8 percent of its total pork supply," notes Greenwood. "Mexico is one of our biggest customers. Mexico is affected by COOL as it relates to fruits and vegetables." His point is, COOL will make it more difficult for Mexician producers to verify their products' origins, and it will increase their costs. As a result, Greenwood expects that Mexico will be more reluctant to buy U.S. pork products. He points to this years' U.S. pork export sales to Mexico, which are running below 2002 levels. "I think, are down 19 percent year to date,” he notes.