The Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently issued a report to explore whether U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed rules on labeling muscle cuts of meats will comply with World Trade Organization (WTO) findings that current country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements discriminate against livestock imports. Titled “Country-of-Origin Labeling for Foods and the WTO Trade Dispute on Meat Labeling,” the report reviews events that led to the WTO ruling which followed a challenge filed by Canada and Mexico to the 2008 farm bill amendments that adopted the disputed COOL provisions. A WTO arbitrator established May 23, 2013, as the deadline for the United States to comply.
Various stakeholders have apparently presented a number of options to bring the United States into compliance, and USDA issued a proposed rule in March. Canada and Mexico have evidently argued that the proposed rule does not fulfill U.S. WTO obligations, and the CRS report notes that this could lead to a request to retaliate. The report suggests that if the international COOL dispute reaches “the retaliation stage, the damage claims could fall between $1 billion and $2 billion.” The CRS report concludes, “Some lawmakers agree with some industry groups’ criticisms of mandatory COOL and could offer legislation to limit its scope and impacts. Others remain strongly supportive of COOL as enacted and oppose any rollback.” With a new farm bill pending before the 113th Congress, some action on COOL is anticipated.