AMI Responds to New Proposed COOL Rule

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WASHINGTON—The American Meat Institute (AMI) responded to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed rule to modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities covered under the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program.

Under COOL, which became effective March 16, 2009, retailers must provide their customers with information about the origin of various food products, including fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish and meats. The proposed rule filed today in the Federal Register would modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps (i.e., born, raised, slaughtered) occurred and would remove the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.

Commenting on the announcement, AMI President J. Patrick Boyle issued a statement that read: “Only the government could take a costly, cumbersome rule like mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) and make it worse even as it claims to ‘fix it.’ That’s exactly what they are doing with a new proposed rule that purportedly aims to bring the law into compliance with U.S. obligations under the World Trade Organization.

The proposed rule is even more onerous, disruptive and expensive than the current regulation implemented in 2009. Complying with this proposal, should it become mandatory, will create more excessive costs that will be passed onto consumers. An absurd example of one of the proposed changes is this: a plant or grocery retailer that currently labels its product, ‘Product of the U.S.’ would now have to change the labels on its packages to read, ‘Born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.’

The bottom line: mandatory country-of-origin labeling is conceptually flawed, in our view and in the eyes of our trading partners. The anti-free trade objectives of this labeling scheme’s proponents are no secret. Requiring us now to provide even more information at a greater cost when evidence shows consumers, by and large, are not reading the current country-of-origin information is an ill-conceived public policy option."

In June 2012, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) affirmed an earlier WTO Panel decision finding that the United States’ COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and thus were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The United States has until May 23, 2013, to come into compliance with the WTO ruling in COOL.

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