Congress to Decide Fate of COOL

Cindy Zimmerman

By a vote of 38 to 6, the House Agriculture Committee today approved legislation to effectively repeal country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements for beef, pork, and chicken.

“This bill is a targeted response that will remove uncertainty and restore stability for the United States by bringing us back into compliance,” Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) said. “We will continue working to get this to the House floor as quickly as possible to ensure our economy and a vast range of U.S. industries and the men and women who work for them do not suffer any economic implications of retaliation.”

cool-house-agThe measure is in direct response to the final World Trade Organization ruling Monday against the United States which has triggered renewed debate over the law. Conaway held a press conference yesterday announcing the repeal legislation where he was joined by a bi-partisan group of representatives from a variety of states including Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and Rep. Brad Ashford (D-NE), as well as representatives from livestock organizations and other industries that are targets of potential trade retaliation by Canada and Mexico. House Ag COOL presser

mt-testerOn the pro-COOL side, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), joined a group of lawmakers and consumer advocates in denouncing the WTO ruling. “The World Trade Organization ruling undermines the right of American families to know where their food comes from,” said Tester, who is a Montana rancher. “This was a horrible ruling.”

Tester, together with Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) tied the WTO ruling to the current effort in Congress to grant Trade Promotion Authority to move pending trade negotiations forward. “This ruling brings up troubling implications for our international trade agreements,” said DeLauro. “The Administration has claimed that deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would not force us to change our laws or regulations. (Monday’s) decision is proof that they are wrong.” Tester-DeLauro COOL presser

Congress basically has two choices in light of the WTO final ruling: repeal the COOL rule or amend it to possibly create a generic North American label. “It’s up to Congress to figure out what to do,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Vilsack response to COOL ruling

But there is still time for Congress to act, given the steps that Canada or Mexico would have to take in order to put retaliation into effect. Which is why National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson calls the House bill “premature and reactionary” noting that there remains ample opportunity for the administration, Mexico and Canada to negotiate an acceptable path forward. “As has happened with past disputes, WTO members can work together to find a solution that will work for them,” said Johnson.

Audio, Trade