Study says U.S. and Canada should integrate meat rules

Reuters / The United States and Canada should integrate meat regulation and head off a dispute over meat labelling that has landed before the World Trade Organization (WTO), a study by two research organizations said June 6.

A U.S. law that took effect in 2009 requires grocers to put labels on cuts of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and ground meat or post signs that list the origin of the meat.

The WTO ruled in November that the country-of-origin labelling provision, or COOL, violated WTO rules on technical barriers to trade. The case was brought by Canada and Mexico, which have a sizable cattle and hog trade with the United States.

The United States has appealed the WTO’s ruling.

The United States should instead move to a label identifying “Product of Canada and the U.S.A.” on beef and pork, as well as livestock raised, processed and traded between the two countries, said a joint study by Canada’s Fraser Institute and Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Regulatory differences for red meat are costly and unnecessary because Canada and the United States have nearly identical processing standards, according to the study.

To boost trade between the countries, they should create a single regulatory area including a common inspection regime, harmonized meat grade designations and an end to border inspections, the study said.

“Regulatory co-operation would create a single red meat regime in which both Canadian and American products can be priced according to their quality and in which the origin of the animals is irrelevant,” said Alexander Moens of the Fraser Institute. “This would benefit consumers through lower prices, help keep beef and pork competitive among increasing food choices, and also make North American meat more competitive.”

The United States is Canada’s top export market for beef and pork.

U.S. consumer and mainline farm groups have supported the labelling requirement, saying consumers should have information to distinguish between U.S. and foreign products.

Big U.S. meat processors opposed the provision, which they said would unnecessarily boost costs and disrupt trade.

In their complaint, Canada and Mexico said cattle and hog shipments to the United States declined sharply after the law took effect.

Many U.S. meat-packing plants, especially those near the U.S.-Canada border, either stopped accepting Canadian livestock or bought less due to the increased costs of segregating animals by domestic and foreign origin.

To be listed as U.S. origin, meat must come from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States. Meat from livestock raised in Mexico or Canada for slaughter in the United States must be labelled as a product of mixed origin.

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