Throughout my years in Congress, I have worked tirelessly to promote Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). As the author of this program, I have seen broad bipartisan support of COOL in the United States Congress, along with strong public support. This program is not just a consumer right-to-know issue; it is a valuable marketing tool for ranchers and farmers.
President Bush signed mandatory COOL into law in the 2002 Farm Bill, with an implementation date of September 30, 2004. However, since being signed into law, COOL fell victim to a series of backroom deals, closed door discussions, delays, postponements, and policy riders attached to appropriations bills. The 2008 Farm Bill amended and clarified the commitment to require COOL implementation and the final rule to implement COOL took effect on March 16, 2009.
Less than one year into implementation, continued opposition to COOL from Canada and Mexico to use the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) trade dispute resolution process to challenge some features that apply to labeling meat. Both countries assert that COOL distorts trading practices by reducing the value and number of cattle and hogs shipped to the U.S. market.
On November 18, 2011, a WTO dispute settlement panel found that COOL treats imported livestock less favorably than U.S. livestock and does not meet its objective to provide complete information to consumers on the origin of meat products. The U.S. appealed the panel report on March 23, 2012. Finally, the WTO Appellate Body upheld the dispute resolution panel’s findings but reversed the finding that COOL does not fulfill its objective to provide consumers with information regarding the origin of their meat.
The Appellate Body correctly affirms the right of the U.S. to adopt labeling requirements in order to inform consumers as to the origin of the meat they purchase for their families. In essence, the ruling upholds the COOL statute but says there are problems with the implementation of the program. I will continue to work closely with the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Trade Representative, to identify the appropriate steps forward and to ensure that the program is carried out as Congress intended, in full compliance with WTO rules.