More than a decade after mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) was first included in the farm bill, the debate continues.
Two weeks ago, we examined a legal opinion by the legal firm Stewart and Stewart (S&S)—paid for by the National Farmers Union, the United States Cattleman’s Association, the Food and Water Watch, and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch—that analyzed the ruling of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body in the case that Canada and Mexico brought against the U.S. COOL law.
S&S said that the U.S. could come into compliance with the Appellate Body ruling through rewriting portions of the COOL regulations. Specifically they opined that the information collected by the producers and packers concerning where an animal was born, raised, and slaughtered needed to be conveyed to the consumer in order to fulfill a legitimate regulatory objective.
In last week’s column we examined the proposed USDA rule that eliminated the mixed origin label for muscle cuts—primarily used for beef and pork—and required that all retail labels specify the country for each step in the production process.
The changes in the proposed rule appear to us to be consistent with the legal analysis of S&S.
Last November, well before the USDA issued the proposed rule, a Kansas State University study by Glynn Tonsor and others—“Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling [MCOOL]: Consumer Demand Impact”—found that
- 1demand for covered meat products has not been impacted by MCOOL implementation,
- typical U.S. residents are unaware of MCOOL and do not look for meat origin information,
- consumers regularly indicate they prefer meat products carrying origin information but reveal similar valuations of alternative origin labels, and
- their conclusions hold across the species and products evaluated (www.agmanager.info).
As a result of their study that was based on scan and interview data from the few years immediately following COOL’s implementation in 2009, they concluded that “given the costs of compliance introduced by MCOOL and no evidence of increased demand for covered products, [their] results suggest an aggregate economic loss for the U.S. meat and livestock supply chain spanning from producers to consumers.”
Some of those opposed to COOL have characterized the proposed USDA rule to bring the U.S. into compliance with the Appellate Body ruling as doubling down on a faulty law, thus leaving the U.S. still in violation of its WTO trade obligations.