Labels are no longer required to identify the country of origin of pork and beef sold in the U.S., now that Congress repealed the law in December 2015. The repeal averts retaliatory tariffs that had been expected from Canada and Mexico and were authorized by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Those retaliatory tariffs had been expected to exceed $1 billion.
The repeal of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), included as a rider in the 2016 Appropriations Act, applies only to pork and beef, not to chicken or lamb. The requirement for this type of label was initially imposed in 2002 when there was concern about the threat of mad cow disease from imported cattle.
The WTO had contended that the U.S. COOL law imposed a disproportionate burden on Canadian and Mexican livestock producers and processors and that it was discriminatory because live cattle and hogs imported from those countries had to be segregated from U.S. herds, which added to production costs. Both Canada and Mexico were seeking import tariffs on many U.S. products if the law was not repealed.
Although initially proposed, the repeal does not include language that would block states from regulating the labeling of products containing genetically modified ingredients, and a requirement for labeling of genetically modified salmon also was not affected.
Advocates of the repeal, which included more than 140 companies and associations that are members of the COOL Reform Coalition, argued that the labeling requirement did little to ensure food safety but instead was likely to lead to “billions in lost business” if the retaliatory tariffs were imposed.
The American Soybean Association also lauded the repeal, saying the issue impacted “feed grain and oilseed farmers, as well as livestock producers.” The approved appropriations bill increases funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, and it maintains the Conservation Stewardship Program, which helps fund the Regional Conservation Partnership Programs in which soy-growing states are already partnering with the USDA.
The repeal of the COOL law has been criticized by several groups, including the National Farmers Union (NFU) that has supported COOL since 1984, according to Roger Johnson, president at NFU. Johnson says that Congress “gave in to demands to completely remove most aspects of COOL for meat that provided meaningful information to the public.”
A coalition composed of 283 farm, rural, consumer, labor, environmental, and other groups also had opposed a repeal of the law, saying that “consumers want more information about their food, not less.” Thomas Gremillion, director of food policy at the Consumer Federation of America, says that the repeal could set a “terrible precedent. COOL laws apply to other foods—from fish and shellfish to fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and many nuts. This legislation sends the message that Congress will repeal other laws too if another WTO panel orders it to do so.”