The House of Representatives has voted to repeal country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for beef, pork, and chicken.
Texas Republican Rep. Michael Conaway’s Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act of 2015 passed late Wednesday night by a 300-131 vote.
Conaway introduced the bill on May 18 — the same day the World Trade Organization rejected a U.S. appeal of its decision that COOL unfairly discriminates against meat imports and gives the advantage to domestic meat products.
Two days later, the House Agriculture Committee passed the bill by 38-6.
COOL, which went into effect for meat in 2013, require that packaging indicate the country, or countries, where animals were born, raised and slaughtered.
Supporters of repeal don’t want the U.S. subjected to the $3.6 billion in potential retaliatory tariffs sought by Canada and Mexico. They also argue that the rule has already burdened the U.S. meat industry.
“The program has not worked, and it is time to put this failed experiment behind us once and for all,” Conaway said during the floor debate.
He and Reps. Dan Benishek (R-MI), Jim Costa (D-CA), David Rouzer (R-NC), David Scott (D-GA) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) asserted that COOL has no impact on food safety.
“Mandatory food labeling is not about food safety,” Benishek said. “No matter where our food comes from, regulations remain in place to ensure safety and traceability regardless of origin.”
But consumers want COOL, said several members opposed to the repeal, including Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). After referencing a survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America finding that 90 percent of Americans favored requiring a label with the country of origin on meat, he said that the response to the last WTO ruling was, “We don’t really care what the American people want. We’re just going to cave.”
“I think that’s the wrong way to proceed,” McGovern added.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who spoke for seven minutes, said that despite comments from President Obama that, “No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws,” the bill to repeal COOL shows that “trade agreements have a direct effect on our sovereignty.”
DeLauro said the same is possible of Trade Promotion Authority legislation to “fast track” trade deals, and she warned her colleagues to “beware of the road that you go down today.”
House Democrats who spoke on the floor in support of the bill included Reps. Costa, Scott, Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Henry Cuellar (D-TX) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) who said that, “COOL may have been well-intended, but we’ve lost four times at the WTO … let’s repeal it, let’s move on.”
Opponents of the bill argued that it is a premature move and includes products not addressed in the WTO decision.
“We’re rushing in a repeal that goes beyond just the disputed elements, adding poultry and raising questions, I think, about our commitment to being able to give consumers what they want,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).
Instead, legislators should “take a deep breath” because no retaliatory tariffs are going to be quickly inflicted, he noted, adding, “This is a process that’s going to take months.”
“Critics of H.R. 2393 will say we have more time, but in truth, we don’t,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA). “This final ruling is the fourth time WTO has ruled against the U.S. for various versions of COOL and, on this final appeal, WTO has given both Canada and Mexico the authority to impose more than $3 billion in combined retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. within 60 days of the ruling.”
The countdown was at 37 days on Wednesday, Newhouse said.
June 17 is the next meeting of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, where members will consider Canada and Mexico’s retaliation lists. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) stated that it will take some time to figure out “what the damage is” and then there will be an arbitration panel “to get everyone to agree that that’s exactly what it is.”