By: Lydia Wheeler and Tim Devaney
Industry groups and top U.S. trading partners are pushing back against legislation to redesign an Agriculture Department meat-labeling rule found to violate international standards, arguing the regulations should be scrapped altogether.
In May, the World Trade Organization's (WTO) appellate body weighed in on the long-running dispute, siding with Canada and Mexico and ruling that the U.S. regulations put those countries at an unfair disadvantage in the U.S. marketplace.
The two nations are now threatening to impose a total of $3 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. food, agriculture and manufacturing if the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule is not fully repealed.
"In talking to Canada and Mexico, the only way to ensure we will never see retaliation is full repeal," said Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Legislation aiming to replace the mandatory labeling rule with a voluntary program, introduced last week by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.), doesn't fix the problem, Woodall said.
The Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling and Trade Enhancement Act would allow processors to voluntarily label their meat products as "born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S."
But Mexico and Canada say Stabenow's legislation will not resolve their concerns.
Other groups are calling on lawmakers to reject the legislation and uphold the COOL rule. A letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Stabenow, who is the ranking member," said lawmakers should "defend consumers' right to know where their food comes from."
"These unapproved, unrealistically high retaliation claims are merely aggressive litigation tactics designed to frighten the United States — a standard practice in WTO disputes," said the letter signed by groups like the American Agriculture Movement, Center for Food Safety, Food Democracy Now! and Friends of the Earth U.S. "Congress should not fall for it.
Originally Published: The Hill