Groups urge lawmakers to reject meat-labeling repeal and voluntary program

A coalition of agriculture, manufacturing, food safety and environmental groups are calling on Congress to reject both the House legislation to fully repeal the Department of Agriculture meat-labeling rule and the Senate bill to create a voluntary labeling program.

The letter, from 142 groups to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsInternal poll shows Kobach trailing Democrat in Kansas Senate race Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers ramp up Silicon Valley antitrust probe | Treasury sanctions North Korean cyber groups | Thiel to host Kobach fundraiser MORE (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks USDA cuts payments promised to researchers as agency uproots to Kansas City MORE (D-Mich.), urged lawmakers to instead “defend consumers’ right to know where their food comes from and the ability of farmers and ranchers to proudly identify their livestock as born and raised in America.”

The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in May that the U.S. mandatory country-of-origin labeling rule for beef, pork and chicken violated U.S. trade obligations because it puts Canadian and Mexican meats at an unfair disadvantage.

Despite that ruling, the letter from the coalition — which includes the American Agriculture Movement, Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now! and Friends of the Earth U.S. — said the U.S. has a sovereign right to allow the dispute process to proceed to its completion, which is months away, and then decide how and whether to implement the adverse ruling.

“It is premature for Congress to unilaterally surrender to saber-rattling from our trading partners in the midst of a long-standing dispute,” their letter said.

Mexico and Canada are threatening to impose $3 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. food, agriculture and manufacturing products if the rule is not fully repealed. The groups said WTO has yet to approve those penalties.  

“These unapproved, unrealistically high retaliation claims are merely aggressive litigation tactics designed to frighten the United States — a standard practice in WTO disputes,” they said. “Congress should not fall for it.”

The groups said a voluntary program is not a solution.

“Neither consumers nor livestock producers believe that we can allow the meatpacking, food processing and grocery retail industries to decide what to disclose to consumers,” the letter said. “These food industries have long resisted providing basic information on food labels.”