by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Better times are ahead for Canadian beef and pork producers, as the World Trade Organization (WTO) appellate body today upheld an earlier ruling condemning the United States’ 2008 Mandatory Country of Origin Labelling law.
But just when those better times will begin isn’t clear. At a press conference held on a cattle ranch in Saskatchewan today, federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Gerry Ritz was optimistic that the law is likely to be changed sooner than the 15-month deadline the WTO imposed.
The American government, meat processors and even consumer groups want the COOL law changed, Ritz said. He thinks it can be done easily. United States Trade Representative Dan Kirk “is on side," he said. The American government “believes in rules-based trade too,” adding that the industry there is applying pressure to change the law.
“I am confident that we can resolve this dispute among friends,” Ritz said.
Ritz and Gerald Keddy, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade, were announcing a WTO ruling on an appeal by the United States of a Trade Panel ruling last November that found Mandatory Country of Origin Labelling was inconsistent with American World Trade Organization obligations.
COOL was a “disruption of a tried and true supply chain,” said Keddy. The decision is “a clear victory for Canada.”
The COOL law, part of the 2008 Farm Bill, was costly for Canadian beef and pork producers, Ritz said. Since 2008, feeder cattle sales into the United States declined by 49 per cent. Slaughter hog sales fell by 58 per cent. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) spent $2 million in lobbying and legal fees to fight the law which cost producers $25 a head, said CCA President Martin Unrau.
The Canadian Pork Council estimates that since the law came into effect, the value of hog exports to the United States was reduced by $1.4 billion. That cost to producers doesn’t include the price suppression effects on hogs sold in Canada.
The Canadian Pork Council “has never disputed the consumer’s right” to know the origin of the food they eat, said President Jean Guy Vincent. Still, the regulatory distinctions imposed by COOL “amount to arbitrary and unjustifiable discrimination against imported livestock.”
According to an October 2009 USDA statement, the COOL statute set out four categories for meat sold in retail stores: exclusively U.S. origin, multiple countries of origin, from animals imported for immediate slaughter, and “exclusively foreign origin.”
In that same statement, trade representative Kirk and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture said, “We regret that formal consultations have not been successful in resolving Canada’s concerns over (COOL). “We believe that our implementation of COOL provides information to consumers in a manner consistent with our World Trade Organization obligations.” BF