Confirming early reports discussed in Issue 536 of this Update, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has again ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico regarding U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) regulations requiring pork and beef products originating outside of the United States to bear labels indicating where each step in the production process occurred. The compliance panel found that the measure “accords to Canadian and Mexican livestock less favorable treatment than that accorded to like US livestock.” The panel also found that the rule’s 2013 amendment “increases the original COOL measure’s detrimental impact on the competitive opportunities of important livestock in the US market, because it necessitates increased segregation of meat and livestock according to origin; entails a higher recordkeeping burden; and increases the original COOL measure’s incentive to choose domestic over imported livestock.”

Following the decision’s release, Mexican and Canadian trade officials issued a joint statement calling the COOL rule “a blatant breach of [the United States’] international obligations as a member of the WTO.” In accordance with the ruling on the “clearly protectionist policy,” Canada and Mexico “remain committed to using the WTO process to reach a satisfactory resolution to our concern, including if and as necessary, seeking authorization to implement retaliatory measures on U.S. agricultural and non-agricultural products.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), head of the Senate Agriculture Committee, noted that WTO recognized the United States’ right to require COOL labeling despite finding issues with the proposed method of regulating the labels. “The World Trade Organization has once again ruled that consumers have a right to know where their food comes from,” she said in an October 20, 2014, statement. “We can spend decades litigating this issue at the WTO, or we can work together to find a solution that encourages international trade and gives consumers what they need to make choices for their families.”