The US House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass a bill repealing the mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef, pork and chicken. Under threats of trade retaliation from Mexico and Canada, the Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act was passed by a vote of 300-131.
Last month, the World Trade Organization ruled the labeling requirements were discriminatory against both the US border countries, which said they would seek to impose tariffs worth billions on American products. This recent ruling by WTO was the fourth and final decision on the law. In its three previous decisions, WTO has ruled against the COOL law.
“I am thankful for the support of my colleagues today in passing this commonsense, bipartisan bill that is a necessary targeted response to avoid retaliation from Canada and Mexico,” says Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Michael Conaway, R-TX, who introduced the bill to repeal the law. “Two of our top trading partners announced earlier this month their intention to seek more than $3 billion in retaliatory sanctions against US exports. This would extend far beyond the agriculture industry and would hurt nearly every sector of the US economy. H.R. 2393 will prevent retaliation and bring the US back into compliance, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to act quickly on this urgent matter.”
The country-of-origin labeling law, or COOL law, would require a label to be placed on meat packages detailing where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Consumer groups lobbied for the rule, but Canada and Mexico complained about it to the WTO, which sided with them.
Canadian and Mexican officials issued a joint statement earlier this month, cementing their point that the COOL law damages the North American supply chain and is harmful to the producers and processors in all three countries. “Our governments today are asking the WTO for a special Dispute Settlement Body meeting to request retaliation rights against the United States, to take place on June 17,” they said. “Canada will request authorization from the WTO to impose over C$3 billion [US$2.5 billion] in retaliatory measures against the US, while Mexico will seek authorization for over US$653 million.”
The North American Meat Institute calls the passage of the bill an essential first step in rolling back the law. “Everyone knows this is not about food safety. It’s an issue of marketing, and that should be decided in the marketplace,” says Barry Carpenter, NAMI president and CEO. “We hope the Senate will move quickly to vote for repeal so the President can sign the bill and put this failed experiment behind us.”
Though the measure was thought to be a result of listening to the cries of consumers, NAMI says that is not necessarily so. To its point, the institute has some science on its side. Researchers at Kansas State University, in collaboration with Oklahoma State University, found most consumers were not willing to pay extra for the label, and there was little change in demand after the labels went into effect.
Labels were first implemented in 2009 to provide shoppers more information about the origin of their meat. The labels were then updated in 2013.