House Ag Committee approves COOL repeal

Strong bipartisan shown by House Agriculture Committee to avoid retaliatory tariffs from mandatory meat labeling.

Just two days after the World Trade Organization announced its final ruling against mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat products, the House Agriculture Committee has approved a bill by a vote of 38 to 6 to fully repeal the labeling scheme.

Currently the law requires meat include a label which indicates where it is born, raised and slaughtered, but it is the segregation and recordkeeping requirements on Mexico and Canada which allowed the United States’ top trade partners to cry foul. The fourth and final appeal attempt by the United States failed and now allows Canada and Mexico to proceed with getting approval on retaliatory levels from the WTO.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway acknowledged in a conference business meeting that was evaluating the bill that some may say any action should wait until retaliation has commenced, which Conaway said he was unwilling to do. “We cannot sit back and let American businesses be held hostage to the desires of a small minority who refuse to acknowledge that the battle is lost,” he said.

Ranking member Colin Peterson (D., Minn.) was one of the six who voted against the bill, saying a full repeal was premature. During his comments before the committee he acknowledged that no one wants to see retaliation, but several steps still have to occur before that would take place.

“Given what we have seen in the past – it took 15 months for the Arbitration Panel to issue a ruling in the U.S.-Brazil cotton case – it’s unlikely the Panel will rule on COOL retaliation within their 60 day window.”

Peterson also said, “I don’t think this is the best way to avoid retaliation, and quite frankly, I don’t think the Senate will be able to pass a repeal.”

Conaway noted however that no other viable options have been proposed. “Frankly, it is now too late in the process to begin discussions which rightfully should have begun when we first lost in the WTO in 2011.”

Rep. David Scott (D., Ga.), who cosponsored the legislation, said it was time to stand up strong for the nation’s agricultural interests. “Retaliation is real with the threats ranging from meat to fruit to biofuels. The question is why would we want to put our agricultural foundation at such a disadvantage?” he asked. He added COOL has proven to be “all costs and absolutely no benefit to us.”

The National Farmers Union and R-CALF USA have come out opposing the bill. However, the COOL Reform Coalition including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn., National Pork Producers Council and National Chicken Council have all voiced support for the full repeal.

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