LEGISLATORS included a repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) in their year-end funding bill, which looks like it will gain final approval ahead of Christmas.
The COOL repeal proposal came just a week after the World Trade Organization approved more than $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs for Canada and Mexico in the final chapter of a seven-year WTO battle.
With tariffs looming, leading agricultural groups, House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) and Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) pushed for the full COOL repeal in the last must-pass legislation of the year. Even speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) had touted the repeal as one of the top priorities in the final package.
However, those who opposed a full repeal criticized that it applies to not only muscle cuts of beef and pork but also extends to trade-compliant ground beef and ground pork.
Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and John Hoeven (R., N.D.) introduced a bill over the summer that would have made COOL voluntary rather than mandatory. Once WTO released its ruling, however, Stabenow said she would no longer push for the voluntary change and instead would work with other legislators to avoid the tariffs.
Once the COOL repeal rider 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 president Mike Brown called the repeal a "win-win" for chicken producers and consumers because now the retaliatory tariffs shouldn't be levied against U.S. chicken and fowl producers.
Since the repeal does not apply to poultry meat, Brown said, "When at the meat case, consumers seeking chicken made in the USA can continue to readily identify these products of American origin."
The National Farmers Union (NFU) said it was "deeply frustrated and angered" by the final rider language. NFU president Roger Johnson took issue with the change to include ground beef and pork in the repeal as the two products had been trade compliant.
"Clearly, this language was produced by longtime 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," Johnson said. "NFU is furious that, yet again, the dysfunction of Congress has enabled this to happen."