The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has issued a final rule amending the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations to comply with a World Trade Organization (WTO) appellate ruling that certain provisions relating to muscle cut meat commodities were inconsistent the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement), which includes an obligation “to accord imported products treatment no less favorable than that accorded to domestic products.” Effective May 23, 2013, the final rule requires origin designations for muscle cut covered commodities “to specify the production steps of birth, raising, and slaughter of the animal from which the meat is derived that took place in each country listed on the origin designation.” It also eliminates “the allowance for commingling of muscle cut covered commodities of different origins” and expands the definition for “retailer” “to include any person subject to be licensed as a retailer under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act.”
Despite the assurances of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack that “these changes will improve the overall operation of the program,” industry groups such as the American Meat Institute (AMI) have already questioned the rulemaking process, describing the final rule as “burdensome,” “reckless” and unlikely to satisfy the TBT Agreement. “It is incomprehensible that USDA would finalize a controversial rule that stands to harm American agriculture, when comments on the proposal made clear how deeply and negatively it will impact U.S. meat companies and livestock producers. This rubber stamping of the proposal begs the question of the integrity of the process: many people spoke, but no one at USDA listened,” opined AMI Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark Dopp in a May 23 statement. “The decision to proceed with a rule that is more costly, complex and burdensome than the earlier version, when WTO and our trading partners have sent strong signals that this is no ‘fix,’ shows a reckless disregard for trade relations and for companies whose very survival is at risk because they rely upon imported livestock.” Additional details about the rulemaking process and the WTO ruling appear in Issues 419, 446 and 475 of this Update. See AMS News Release and AMI Press Statement, May 23, 2013.