USDA supports U.S. appeal of WTO ruling against U.S. law on meat labeling in case brought by Canada and Mexico, says its country of origin labeling regulations do not breach WTO commitments

WASHINGTON , April 5, 2012 (press release) – Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) released a letter to industry representatives stating that country of origin labeling (COOL) regulations will remain in force and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture strongly supports the United States Trade Representative’s appeal in the World Trade Organization (WTO) to defend its existing COOL regulations.

On March 23, 2012, the United States appealed the WTO Panel report, issued on November 18, 2011, which found certain aspects of the United States’ COOL requirements, as they apply to beef and pork, to breach the WTO commitments of the United States. On March 28, 2012, Canada and Mexico, the complaining parties in the dispute, also appealed certain aspects of the Panel’s report. AMS is responsible for the implementation, administration and enforcement of the COOL regulations.

Under COOL, retailers must provide their customers with information about the origin of various food products, including fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish and meats. Mandatory COOL requirements help consumers make informed purchasing decisions about the food they buy.

The final COOL regulations became effective March 16, 2009. Since then, AMS has devoted significant resources to education and outreach. Those efforts have resulted in extremely high COOL compliance rates, according to AMS Acting Administrator Robert Keeney.

“Over these last three years, AMS has closely reviewed industry compliance with COOL,” Keeney said. “Most recently, in 2011, USDA and its state cooperators conducted more than 5,000 initial and follow up compliance reviews of retailers. These reviews established an estimated 96% compliance rate for commodities under COOL.”

Keeney believes the COOL regulations are working well and that there is no need to change the regulations. In light of this, the Department has withdrawn the letter to industry representatives pertaining to COOL dated February 20, 2009. Retailers must comply fully with the current regulations, notwithstanding the ongoing WTO litigation. The current COOL regulations will remain in full force and effect as the United States continues to defend the COOL requirements at the WTO.

“Nothing has changed,” Keeney said. “Business will operate as usual and the COOL regulations will remain in force until the Department sees a need to propose changes to them.”

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