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U.S. Cattlemen's group optimistic about COOL

A cattle group that strongly supports country-of-origin labeling for red meat is more optimistic than other supporters about the continuation of meaningful labeling followed a mixed World Trade Organization ruling on the legality of the COOL program under international trade law.

A WTO appeals panel ruled that country-of -origin labeling to provide information to consumers is legal under WTO rules, but that the United States had discriminated against Canada and Mexico in the way it handled animals from those countries. Packers have complained that segregating animals during slaughtering and processing is expensive, and the Canadian and Mexican governments complained that sales to the United States had declined.

Jess Peterson
Jess Peterson
Jess Peterson, a Washington lobbyist for the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, told the Hagstrom Report in an email late Friday that he believes the Agriculture department can still maintain the program.

“It’s all about how difficult the packers want to be … but there is definitely a path forward that keeps COOL in place,” Peterson said.

Public Citizen said the WTO ruling would make it impossible for USDA to run a meaningful program.

Lori Wallach
Lori Wallach
Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the ruling will essentially make it impossible for the United States to continue an effective, mandatory COOL label that “complies with all the constraints the WTO has set,” the Washington Post reported on Friday.

Food and Water Watch also urged that the Obama administration ignore the ruling and continue the program. Under WTO rules, governments can ignore rulings but they are required to pay compensation to the countries that the WTO has ruled have suffered damages.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk praised the portion of the ruling that said labeling was legal, and said the United States would comply with the rest of it.

Canadian government officials and cattle leaders have also said that the ruling will help them achieve their goals of more open trade.