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No WTO-Compliant “Regulatory Fix” for COOL, Says USDA Head Vilsack

Posted November 25, 2014

Following the most recent decision on October 20 by the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling against the U.S. mandatory country-of-origin meat-labeling (COOL) rule and a legal victory (of sorts) earlier this month for proponents of the rule upholding its constitutionality, there had been some hope of resolving the long-running dispute over COOL legislatively.
Curious Cow
After the WTO decision, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), one of COOL’s strongest proponents, stated that it “supports a country-of-origin labeling program that conforms to appropriate parameters and meets WTO requirements.”  The AFBF also recognized that “there must be further work to craft an accepted COOL program.” Earlier this month, Dale Moore, the AFBF’s deputy director of public policy, told Capital Press that he believed “Congress can reach a compromise that eliminates Canada’s and Mexico’s losses and still provides information to consumers, and looming trade sanctions might coax lawmakers into working on it.”

Crafting such a regulatory fix in Congress no longer appears to be an option, however. At least not if remarks made by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the recent National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention in Kansas, MO are to be taken as conclusive regarding the matter. “There is no apparent regulatory solution available that could make this rule compliant with the WTO’s recent decision and also uphold the law Congress passed,” Vilsack said.

The secretary further explained, “that either Canada and Mexico will tell the United States clearly and more specifically what, if any, variation of COOL will work for them, or Congress has to give different directions that would allow the United States to comport with the WTO ruling to prevent whatever potential retaliation may occur.”

Another factor curbing willingness to find a legislative compromise is that following the midterm elections, control of both agriculture committees in Congress will now be held by Republicans that in the past have championed the meat packing industry and have strongly opposed COOL. Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas has said point blank that he “hates” the COOL regulations and blames them for having caused significant damage to the livestock industry in his home state since they were implemented in 2008. Incoming House chairman Mike Conaway has described COOL as a “failed experiment.”

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has yet to decide whether to appeal the latest ruling, something that Vilsack has previously indicated would not be dealt with until January.