WTO Panel To Hear COOL Dispute

The World Trade Organization set up a dispute settlement panel last Thursday to hear a complaint from Canada and Mexico that a recent U. S. food-labelling law is unfair.

Washington’s mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) requires U. S. packers to notify customers of the country of origin of meat and other farm products at each major stage of production, including grocery stores.

The additional costs of segregating foreign from domestic animals has resulted in major packers in the United States limiting or halting their livestock imports, prompting complaints from Canadian and Mexican producers.

The WTO’s decision, which is routine at this stage, was welcomed by Canadian politicians who said the law has greatly restricted hog and cattle exports to their biggest market.

“We are confident that we will win our challenge,” said Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz in a statement.

The WTO panel is expected to report next summer or early fall.

Canadian cattle and hog farmers are thinning their herds to deal with a string of difficulties, including the U. S. labelling law, low prices, drought and the H1N1 flu’s impact on meat exports.

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