The WTO panel agreed that the United States has the right to require country of origin labeling, as long as it is to provide consumers with information, and not for protectionist reasons. However, it found that current COOL requirements afford less favorable treatment to imported livestock than domestic livestock, and that the policy “does not fulfill the objective of providing consumer information on origin with respect to meat products”.
Responding to the WTO announcement, press secretary for the Office of the US Trade Representative Andrea Mead said in a statement: “We are pleased that the panel affirmed the right of the United States to require country of origin labeling for meat products.
“Although the panel disagreed with the specifics of how the United States designed those requirements, we remain committed to providing consumers with accurate and relevant information with respect to the origin of meat products that they buy at the retail level. In that regard we are considering all options, including appealing the panel’s decision.”
The Canadian government said that US COOL measures have forced Canadian exports to go through a lengthy labeling and tracking system, which it claims has led to the disintegration of the North American supply chain. Under the system, US meat processors have been required to handle and label Canadian products separately, leading many of them to simply exclude Canadian products. Moreover, Canadian producers have said that the rules have produced a glut on local markets, thereby depressing prices.
Canada’s minister of international trade Ed Fast welcomed the WTO decision.
He said: “This decision recognizes the integrated nature of the North American supply chain in this vitally important industry. Removing onerous labeling measures and unfair, unnecessary costs will improve competitiveness, boost growth and help strengthen the prosperity of Canadian and American producers alike.”
The United States is Canada’s biggest export market for cattle and hogs, and Canada said its cattle exports were down 23% and hog exports were down 34% from 2007 to 2009.
Canada first requested WTO involvement in December 2008, alleging that the COOL system had damaged its export market.
Country of origin labeling is required on all beef, chicken, pork, lamb, goat, and fish sold at US grocery stores, as well as on perishable agricultural commodities, ginseng, macadamias, pecans and peanuts.
The United States has 60 days in which it can file an appeal with the WTO.