WTO shoots down US meat-labeling rule

WTO shoots down US meat-labeling rule

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled against the U.S. appeal to keep its country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule for imported cuts of beef and pork.

Canada and Mexico have long disputed the U.S. rule, arguing that it puts the countries’ meats at an unfair disadvantage in the U.S. market.

Issued in 2013, the COOL regulations would require that meat packaging give more information about where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered. Under the rule, the label on a cut of beef could theoretically read “Born in Mexico, raised in Canada, slaughtered in the U.S.A.”

WTO’s appellate body said Monday that the mandatory rule violates U.S. trade obligations and imposes a disproportionate burden in record-keeping and verification requirements on meat producers and processors.

Timothy Reif, chief counsel for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said the U.S. is disappointed in the WTO’s decision.

“We are considering all options going forward, and will continue to consult with members of Congress and interested members of the public regarding possible next steps,” he said.

U.S. industry groups, meanwhile, cheered the ruling.

“If there ever was any question that mandatory country-of-origin labeling is a trade barrier that violates our international agreements, the WTO ruling against the United States today should lay those doubts to rest,” the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) said in a news release on Monday.

NAMI said it will work with Congress to repeal COOL once and for all.

Members of the COOL Reform Coalition are concerned that Canada and Mexico will now retaliate against the U.S by imposing billions of dollars worth of tariffs on U.S. food, agriculture and manufacturing.    

"WTO-authorized retaliation by two of the largest U.S. trading partners could result in very substantial tariffs affecting multiple sectors of the U.S. economy, threatening the livelihoods of American families who depend on U.S. manufacturing," Linda Dempsey, coalition chair and vice president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a news release.

The coalition is now calling on Congress to intervene and bring the U.S. into compliance with its trade obligations.