Ag Committee Chairman Rejects Generic Label Option

May 1, 2015 Issues: Country of Origin Labeling

Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) rejected the latest recommendation to establish a generic mandatory label option, an option typically referred to as a “Product of North America” label, should the U.S. lose its World Trade Organization (WTO) appeal regarding country of origin labeling (COOL) in the coming weeks.

Earlier today, the Department of Agriculture released two reports regarding country of origin labeling.  One report acknowledges no measurable consumer benefits, but does in fact cite significant costs associated with this label mandate, and the other outlines options to comply with previous WTO decisions, which rejected the U.S. law as being trade distorting.  In the report concerning compliance options, USDA acknowledged if the U.S. loses its latest WTO appeal, we will have no choice but to repeal the law or amend it by establishing a generic mandatory label for meat.  No other options are offered.
 
“The call for a new generic mandatory meat label identifying meat as a product of North America does nothing to help producers, provides no useful information to consumers, and worse, it does nothing to mitigate the threat of retaliation since the idea has already been rejected by our trading partners,” Chairman Conaway said. “If the governments of Canada and Mexico do not accept this option, retaliation would continue. Our trading partners have already said this option is unacceptable, so it is perplexing that USDA would ignore basic facts and put forward an approach that would only serve to exacerbate the current situation. It is apparent that the Department is void of a workable, trade-compliant solution and producers, consumers and targeted industries deserve a straight-forward response stating as much. In order to avoid what could be devastating retaliatory sanctions against U.S. businesses if we lose, the starting point needs to be that mandatory COOL for meat is a failed experiment which should be repealed. The House Agriculture Committee is prepared to lead on this issue. Our goal, which is shared by industry and consumers alike, is to provide stability, not to create uncertainty.”
 
Under a generic North American label mandate, if an animal is born, raised and slaughtered in Mexico, Canada, or the United States, or any combination thereof, the meat derived from that animal would be labeled as being a product of North America. This idea has been floated and rejected by proponents and opponents of mandatory COOL. Ironically, this is the one aspect of the debate over COOL that both sides agree.  Furthermore, since any action taken by the U.S. to come into compliance would have to be agreed to by Canada and Mexico, previous statements by the Canadian government rejecting a generic North American label mandate should have been factored into USDA’s legislative recommendations.  The WTO is expected to issue its ruling on the latest US – COOL dispute no later than May 18, 2015.