The Union is the latest farm organisation to add its voice to the debate over the controversial rule, which is the subject of an international dispute currently being arbitrated by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Mandatory COOL in the US came into effect in 2013 for meat, but in June this year the US House of Representatives voted to repeal it, worried about threats of retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico. Both countries claim they have suffered huge losses because meat processors in the US find it harder to track and keep account of imported animals, and therefore favour domestic livestock.
Following the vote by the House of Representatives, the issue has now been passed to the US Senate to decide. The Senate remains divided, but one solution backed by the MFU is that origin labelling is diluted to make in voluntary.
“We believe that Montanans and all consumers want to know where their food comes from and, by labelling it, they know where it was born, raised, and slaughtered,” said Chris Christiaens of the MFU. “The issue with fair trade and the WTO is the simple fact that both Canada and Mexico have indicated they have lost a great deal of money because of the labelling issue in the US.”
Last week, a WTO panel met in Geneva, where Canada argued the case for it to be allowed to impose retaliatory tariffs of over $3bn of US exports to Canada. It claimed hog exports to the US fell by more than 80% following the implementation of mandatory COOL rules.
Canadian Pork Council (CPC) chair Rick Bergmann said costs of compliance are so onerous for US meat processors that the number of US plants willing to purchase Canadian-born pigs fell from more than 25 prior to mandatory COOL to just a handful today.
“It has been almost six years since Canada filed its request to the WTO to adjudicate this dispute,” added Bergmann, who farms in Steinbach, Manitoba. “The WTO has ruled four times that the US COOL rules are discriminatory. The US needs to deal now with fixing the faulty legislation before allowing steep tariffs to be imposed on a wide swathe of its exports to Canada.”
Representatives of the CPC, along with Manitoba Pork Council and Ontario Pork, were present at the WTO arbitration panel in Geneva. The report of the Arbitrator is expected on 27 November.