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U.S. senators call for appeal of WTO’s COOL ruling

Nineteen U.S. senators are calling for an appeal to be filed on a World Trade Organization panel ruling in Canada’s favour against a U.S. country-of-origin labelling (COOL) law on meats and other foods.

"We request that your agencies take appropriate actions to appeal the (WTO Dispute Settlement Body panel’s) ruling and to work to ensure that our COOL program both meets our international trade obligations while continuing to provide such information to consumers," the bipartisan group wrote Thursday to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

A DSB panel ruled in November in favour of challenges filed by Canada and Mexico, finding COOL to be "inconsistent with the United States’ WTO obligations."

COOL breached the WTO’s Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) by "according less favourable treatment to imported Canadian cattle and hogs than to like domestic products," the DSB panel found.

The panel added that COOL — which the U.S. government has touted as a way of educating and informing U.S. consumers — "does not fulfil its legitimate objective of providing consumers with information on origin" and thus again breaches the TBT Agreement.

The Obama administration hasn’t yet said if it will appeal the DSB panel’s ruling to the WTO Appellate Body.

"It was the intention of Congress in developing this provision that such labeling would be nondiscriminatory in its treatment of imported products by requiring the labeling of both domestic as well as imported products," the 19 senators, including 14 Democrats and five Republicans, wrote Thursday.

"While we believe that improvements should have been made to the final rule, we believe that it appropriately establishes a labeling system which provides important and useful information to consumers while not placing an undue burden on the industry," the lawmakers wrote.

"Additionally, we believe that the labeling system continues to provide the same opportunity for imported livestock to compete in the domestic marketplace as was the case prior to (the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s) implementation of COOL."

"Completely legitimate"

Furthermore, the senators wrote to Vilsack and Kirk, "many of our major trading partners, including Canada and Mexico, themselves impose their own country-of-origin labeling requirements for imported meats. As such, it is clear that it is within our authority under our WTO obligations to implement such a program."

"People want to know where the food on their tables comes from, and makes (COOL) a no-brainer," Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and one of the cosignors of the letter, said in a release.

"Nearly all products sold in the U.S. show where the product was made," he said. "In fact, other countries label where their meat originated. It’s completely legitimate for us to show if the meat we buy originated in the U.S."

Conceived in Washington’s 2002 Farm Bill and launched in 2008, the COOL law orders U.S. retailers to notify customers, by way of labeling, on the sources of foods such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat, fish, fruits, vegetables, peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts.

Both Canada and Mexico have long contended COOL violates international trade laws, restricts market access and is a technical trade barrier. Canada in late 2008 formally challenged COOL at the WTO, which convened this DSB panel on the case in late 2009.

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