As is often the case with Congress, deadlines spur action. For the majority of the year, Congress has been working to repeal mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) on imported meats, with the House passing a stand-alone bill in the spring. With the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) set to authorize tariffs of over $1 billion on U.S. food exports within the next few days, Congress finally acted by including the repeal of COOL within the Omnibus appropriations bill recently signed into law by the President.
Since 2008, COOL has required U.S. food processors and retailers to handle foreign meat and certain other products separately from U.S. meat and include labeling disclosing the country of origin, meaning where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered. Proponents of COOL argue that consumers have a right to know the origin of their food, whereas opponents argue that COOL increases costs and unfairly stigmatizes foreign products. Ultimately, however, the policy debate became a moot point when the WTO authorized Canada and Mexico to impose$1 billion in retaliatory tariffs on a wide variety of U.S. exports.
Those in the industry should be aware that the Omnibus only repeals the COOL requirement for beef and pork – the meats that were part of the WTO challenge. COOL requirements remain in place for other products, including chicken and lamb.