By Roger Johnson, president, National Farmers Union
The decision by the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) is due sometime in mid to late May, and when that announcement happens, Congress needs to resist any attempts to change the popular labeling law until the WTO appeals process has been completely exhausted and a final determination is reached. It would be unprecedented in American history for Congress to make any changes in a law in the middle of a lengthy WTO appeals process and to do so would be a slap in the face to both American producers and consumers, who support the law by a margin of 90 percent, according to a decade’s worth of consumer polling.
The WTO decision can be brought to arbitration by Canada and Mexico, who filed the complaint, or by the U.S., which has fought attacks against COOL by both the multinational meat packers domestically and our chief trade competitors internationally. If the WTO rules against America’s consumers and producers in May, Canada and Mexico can retaliate against U.S. exports but the level of retaliation is subject to arbitration if requested by the U.S. The level of retaliation is limited to the adverse effects on Canadian exports to the U.S.
But proving COOL has hurt Canadian exports to the U.S. will be no small feat, given the findings of a recently released study by Auburn University that found it was the economic collapse of 2008 – and not COOL – that softened consumer demand in the U.S. and caused a reduction in Canadian cattle exports.
Interestingly, when European consumers found out that instead of beef, they were eating horsemeat, they demanded, and were given, labeling on meat products very similar to COOL. Now the EU and Australia now both either have, or are considering, similar laws. Hopefully, common sense prevails at the WTO. Globally, the political environment is clearly shifting towards more information for consumers, not less. So in the end, pressure will continue to mount within the WTO to recognize and accept the right of consumers to increased information such as is provided by COOL.