Washington, DC—U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) and U.S. Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) today called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk to uphold mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) as the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement process moves forward. Johnson and Enzi, together with a bipartisan group of 23 colleagues, are fighting to ensure that no changes are made to the program that contradict the intent of Congress.
“The COOL requirements agreed to by Congress provide choice to the American consumer in the grocery store aisle and would finally let them know where their food comes from,” said Johnson. “We have come a long way in making sure that COOL is properly implemented, and we cannot stop now. More than 45 other countries have implemented origin labeling programs for food, and we cannot let the United States fall further behind.”
“COOL is what the American people want and have been waiting on for years. It is a good law that is on par with what over 45 other nations have on the books. I will continue fighting for food labeling,” said Enzi.
The WTO recently agreed to establish a panel to examine the United States’ rules for COOL implementation following a second request by Canada and Mexico to review the requirements. WTO process requires consensus for blocking a second panel request. The selection process for the panel is continuing and they are not expected to issue a ruling until next year.
A Copy of the Letter is Below:
December 21, 2009
Secretary Tom Vilsack Ambassador Ron Kirk
United States Department of Agriculture Office of the United States Trade Representative
1400 Independence Ave., SW 600 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20250 Washington, DC 20508
Dear Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Kirk,
We write to express our strong support for implementation of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) in accordance with Congressional intent, and to discuss with you our appreciation for your continued support for upholding mandatory COOL as the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement process continues.
As you know, the United States Congress worked to reauthorize the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill) in a bipartisan fashion. Included in this most recent Farm Bill is a common sense plan to implement a mandatory food labeling program effectively and in a manner that ensures enhanced consumer information in the grocery store aisle. We believe that, in a manner consistent with General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) obligations, the COOL program as signed into law in the 2008 Farm Bill is nondiscriminatory in its treatment of imported goods, mandating that both domestic and imported goods covered under the law be labeled with country of origin.
We appreciate your efforts thus far in successfully blocking Canada’s and Mexico’s original panel requests as heard on October 23, 2009, by the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) under the WTO Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes (DSU). The second dispute settlement panel request was heard by the DSB on November 19, 2009, and a panel was consequently established as a result of WTO process requiring consensus for the blocking of a second panel request.
Over forty-five other nations have each already implemented a food labeling program which provides country of origin information to consumers. As you know, both Canada and Mexico have implemented food labeling programs of their own to make such information available. Some of the origin labeling programs implemented in other countries require that more information be made available to the consumer than what is required by the food labeling program in the United States. The food labeling programs established to date in other countries clearly indicate that the United States is implementing a reasonable program which is compliant with our trade obligations.
For these reasons, we encourage you to continue to support the mandatory food labeling program authored by the United States Congress during reauthorization of this most recent Farm Bill, and thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.
Sen. Ben Nelson