The US Department for Agriculture (USDA) published a proposed rule to modify its COOL legislation on Friday. The rule would modify the labelling provisions for muscle-cut commodities to require the origin designations to include information about where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered and remove the allowance for co-mingling of muscle cuts.
Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said this would “improve the overall operation of the program and bring the current mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with US international trade obligations”.
However, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) said the proposed rule would not bring the US COOL laws in line with its international trade obligations.
“In the CCA’s view, the USDA’s proposed rule, if adopted, will in fact increase the discrimination against imported cattle by adding labelling requirements and eliminating some of the existing mitigating flexibility, thereby significantly increasing the costs of compliance,” it said in a statement.
The US National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) also hit out at the proposed rule, warning that it would damage trading relationships and lead to increase costs for consumers.
NCBA president Scott George said: “NCBA has maintained that there is no regulatory fix that can be put in place to bring the current COOL rule into compliance with our World Trade Organization (WTO) obligation or that will satisfy our top two trading partners – Mexico and Canada. With the amended rule, the USDA has proven that to be true.
“The proposed amendments will only further hinder our trading relationships with our partners, raise the cost of beef for consumers and result in retaliatory tariffs being placed on our export products.”
George added that the requirement that all products sold at retail should be labelled with information for each of the production steps would place additional financial and bureaucratic burdens on processors and retailers.
“Moreover this, combined with the elimination of the ability to co-mingle muscle cuts, will only further add to the costs of processing non-US born, raised and slaughtered products. The end result will be hesitancy to process imported product and increased instances of less favourable treatment of foreign products, giving our trading partners a stronger case at the WTO,” he said.
Meanwhile, Canada’s government said it was “extremely disappointed” with the proposed regulatory changes.
“We do not believe the proposed changes will bring the United States into compliance with its WTO obligations,” said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
“The proposed changes will increase the discrimination against exports of cattle and hogs from Canada and increase damages to the Canadian industry.”
Ritz said Canada’s government would “consider all options”, including retaliatory measures, if the US did not achieve compliance by the deadline set by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The Appellate Body of the WTO ruled in June 2012 that the US COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and therefore violated US trade obligations. The US has been given until 23 May 2013 to come into compliance with the ruling.