COOL may reappear in Congress

A bi-partisan effort by senators in the United States may see a return of country-of-origin labelling for beef products.

A draft bill is making its way through the U.S. Congress and is expected to hit the floor for a vote in the coming weeks.

The head of U.S. beef industry lobby group R-Calf, Bill Bullard, said the new legislation is aiming to level the playing field for U.S. beef producers.

“We think it’s vitally important that our U.S. cattle producers can distinguish their exclusively U.S.A.-produced beef in the domestic market,” said Bullard. “It’s fundamental to supporting competition because only if the consumers are afforded the opportunity to choose can they send demand signals throughout the supply chain as to where the cattle must be sourced to satisfy their particular demand.”

The latest effort comes after two Republican and two Democratic senators introduced the American Beef Labeling Act to the U.S. Senate’s agricultural committee in September.

The initial efforts for the U.S. to enact mandatory country of origin labelling, known as mCool, began in 2002 with passage of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act.

After a seven-year delay, that legislation took effect in 2009 but was challenged by both Canada and Mexico through the World Trade Organization.

That legislation was repealed in 2015 after the WTO ruled in favour of Canada and Mexico, clearing the way for retaliatory tariffs.

As for mCOOL not being compliant with trade regulations, Bullard said he doesn’t believe that should be an issue.

“We have virtually all other products continue to be labelled with their country-of-origin labelling and beef happens to be an outlier,” said Bullard.

He said he doesn’t understand the argument of Canadian producers that their product can only be competitive in the U.S. market if its origin is not clearly stated.

According to the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, any revival of mCOOL will also allow for the WTO decision to be reinstated. That would allow for nearly a billion dollars in tariffs to be levelled against the U.S. by Canada and Mexico.

The onus of reversing that decision would fall on the U.S., according to the CCA.

“CCA notes that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack has repeatedly stressed the need for any new origin labelling requirement to be consistent with U.S. WTO obligations and it is not clear from the language of the bill itself how WTO compliance could be achieved,” Fawn Jackson, director of policy and international affairs, said in a statement.

If passed, the American Beef Labeling Act would give U.S. trade officials one year to develop a system that would be in line with WTO regulations.