The M-COOL battle rages as two different bills reached the United States Senate floor late July. Legislation introduced on July 24 by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., would repeal country of origin labeling requirements for beef, pork and poultry and stave off trade retaliation from Canada and Mexico, a move hailed by the National Pork Producers Council.
The proposed amendment comes on the heels of last month’s passage of legislation by the House of Representatives to repeal COOL.
Senator Roberts says to protect the U.S. economy and ensure Canada and Mexico drop their pursuit of retaliation the Senate must take up the House passed bill repealing COOL.
“Whether you support COOL or whether you oppose COOL, the fact is retaliation is coming unless the Senate acts to stop this program that the WTO has found to be discriminatory,” says Roberts. “Over the years this body has attempted many times to craft a workable COOL program for all stakeholders while still living up to our international trade obligations.
Congress, through directives in the 2002 farm bill and 2008 farm bill, required the establishment of COOL for meat.
The senator from Kansas says through regulations issued in 2009 and revised in 2013 the Department of Agriculture made several attempts to implement a workable and WTO compliant COOL program.
“However, as I mentioned earlier, again and again the WTO ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico,” he said. “The Canadian government, which will determine whether or not retaliation on U.S. products will take effect in the near future, has made it clear the only acceptable outcome remains for the United States to repeal COOL or face $3,000,000,000 in annual retaliation.”
The WTO in May rejected an appeal by the U.S. of the international trade body’s October 2014 ruling that the COOL provisions on beef and pork discriminate against Canadian and Mexican animals that are sent to the United States to be fed out and processed.
“We’re grateful that Chairman Roberts recognizes that repeal of COOL meat labeling is the only move left, with retaliation from Canada and Mexico imminent,” said NPPC President Dr. Ron Prestage, a veterinarian and pork producer from Camden, S.C. “The U.S. had its day in court, and it lost. We’re in the sentencing phase now, and without repeal, a sentence of up to $3 billion soon will be imposed on our exports.”
Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes says, the average U.S. pork producer could lose $10 per hog beginning later this year and into next year and most likely would double pork producer losses.
A measure also introduced on July 24 by Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., would repeal mandatory meat labeling and replace it with a voluntary labeling program.
But because Stabenow’s bill – like the existing law – calls for labels to provide information on where animals are born, raised and slaughtered, it still would necessitate segregation of Canadian and Mexican livestock, leading to discrimination against them – a violation of international trade rules.
Canada rejects the voluntary approach outright and would continue to pursue retaliation.
“The only acceptable outcome remains for the United States to repeal COOL,” says ag minister Gerry Ritz and Trade Minister Ed Fast. “Senator Stabenow’s COOL 2.0 fails to address Canada’s concerns and would continue to undermine our integrated North American supply chains,” says the statement by both ministers. “By continuing the segregation of and discrimination against Canadian cattle and hogs, Senator Stabenow’s measure will harm farmers, ranchers, packers, retailers and consumers on both sides of the border. This is contrary to successive World Trade Organization (WTO) decisions that have clearly ruled in Canada’s favour.”
NPPC’s Prestage says it doesn’t satisfy Canada and Mexico, so it won’t stop retaliation, and the industry can’t afford to have their products restricted, through tariffs, to two of their top three markets.
“We don’t like it, Congress doesn’t like it, but the reality is that after four losses at the WTO, Canada and Mexico hold the cards,” said the NPPC president.  •
— By Harry Siemens