Legislators were able to include a mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) repeal in the year-end funding bill currently awaiting a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The inclusion comes just a week after the final World Trade Organization’s approved over $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs for Canada and Mexico in the final chapter of a seven year WTO battle.
The tariffs could come into effect as soon as Friday, Dec. 18, leading agricultural groups to push for the full repeal in this legislation. However, those who opposed full repeal said the repeal included for not only muscle cuts of beef and pork, but extending to trade-compliant ground beef and ground pork.
Both the House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) and Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) had been pushing for a full repeal in order to prevent damaging tariffs on agriculture and businesses as well as tainting the relationship with the top two trading partners.
“For several years now, the writing has been on the wall that U.S. COOL requirements for meat were doomed at the WTO. Since its inception, I have warned that retaliation was coming, and I’m pleased American agriculture and businesses will escape these tariffs,” said Roberts.
However, his counterpart Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) had introduced a bill with Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) this summer which would have made COOL voluntary, rather than mandatory.
Once WTO released its ruling, Stabenow said she would no longer push for the voluntary change and instead would work together on avoiding the tariffs. Once the rider legislation was revealed, she said in an email statement, “It is critical that we come together to resolve this issue so that our businesses do not face the cost of retaliation. I’m pleased we’ve done that on a bipartisan basis.”
National Chicken Council Mike Brown welcomed that the repeal is a “win-win” for U.S. chicken producers and consumers because the retaliatory tariffs should not now be levied against U.S. chicken and fowl producers. “When at the meat case, consumers seeking chicken made in the USA can continue to readily identify these products of American origin,” Brown said as the repeal does not apply to poultry meat.
But groups such as the National Farmers Union were “deeply frustrated and angered” by the final rider language.
"Congress had a solution to make COOL compliant with our World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations sitting on their desks for 5 months," said Johnson. "Instead, they gave in to demands to completely remove most aspects of COOL for meat that provided meaningful information to the public.”
Johnson took issue with the change to include ground beef and pork – two producers that were found to be trade compliant. “Clearly this language was produced by long-time COOL opponents who legislated in the dark of the night under the guise of solving an issue, when really their intentions completely undermine the will of American consumers and producers,” said Johnson. “NFU is furious that yet again the dysfunction of Congress has enabled this to happen.”