WASHINGTON (June 8, 2015) – National Farmers Union (NFU) today joined 283 organizations representing farm interests, rural America, faith, environment, farmworker and consumers in urging members of the U.S. House of Representatives to reject the repeal of the Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law and support commonsense food labeling.
“Polls show that nine out of ten Americans support COOL,” notes the letter, adding, “consumers continue to demand more and more information about their food and producers want to share that information.”
The letter points out that although the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body has issued its decision on COOL, the U.S. has a sovereign right to allow the dispute process to proceed to its completion and decide how and whether to implement the adverse ruling.
“It is premature for the Congress to unilaterally surrender to saber rattling from our trading partners in the midst of a long-standing dispute,” notes the letter. “COOL opponents have highlighted Mexico and Canada’s threats of retaliation as if their aspiration to seek billions of dollars in penalties were already approved by the WTO. But these unapproved, unrealistically high retaliation claims are merely aggressive litigation tactics designed to frighten the United States — a standard practice in WTO disputes, and Congress should not fall for it.”
The letter notes that the WTO can only authorize penalties based on the extent to which COOL caused a reduction in the volume and price of livestock imports. But the economic recession was the driving factor behind declining livestock imports, not the application of a simple label.
“Cattle imports are higher today than when COOL went into effect and hog imports are rapidly rebounding, even with COOL still in place. This straightforward logic is buttressed by a recent economic report from Auburn University that demonstrates that COOL has not impacted the livestock trade and that any harm to our trading partners has in fact been negligible at most,” it notes. “Moreover, retaliation is only relevant if the United States, Canada and Mexico cannot reach an agreement after the parties have undergone the full WTO arbitration process.”
The letter explains that in past WTO disputes that the United States has lost, the United States has waited for the WTO process to conclude and then has successfully avoided WTO-authorized trade sanctions by negotiating a settlement with the other country in the dispute.
“Finally, the proposed COOL repeal legislation is particularly extreme in that it would roll back commonsense labels that the WTO actually supported or that never even were raised in the WTO dispute,” the letter concludes. The legislation would repeal COOL for ground beef and ground pork as well as for chicken, but the WTO explicitly ruled that the COOL label on ground meat was WTO-legal, and the dispute never addressed chicken or other covered commodities (including seafood, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, goat, venison and some nuts).”