By PHILIP A. JANQUART
Thursday, September 06, 2012
The U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Act, aka COOL, requires all fresh produce, meat, chicken and fish to be labeled to reveal its country of origin.
The COOL Act, signed in 2002, led Canada and Mexico to file complaints with the WTO. Three WTO representatives, from Portugal, Pakistan and Switzerland, found that COOL violated the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and “imposes discriminatory burdens on meat imported from Canada and Mexico,” according to the complaint.
The WTO’s Appellate Body affirmed the decision, finding that COOL, “particularly in regard to the muscle cut meat labels, is inconsistent with Article 2.1 of the TBT Agreement [Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement] because it accords less favorable treatment to imported livestock than to like domestic stock.”
The cattlemen-plaintiffs object.
“The Country of Origin Labeling Act is not a barrier to trade of any kind,” the complaint states. “It was passed to give consumers information about where agricultural products came from. Consumers could choose not to buy raspberries from Guatemala because of a bacterial problem there, or could refuse to buy Canadian beef because of a Mad Cow disease problem there.”
Citing an unidentified “recent opinion poll,” the plaintiffs claim that 93 percent of U.S. consumers support the COOL Act.
The cattlemen also claim that the Uruguay Round Agreement, signed into law by President Clinton in 1994, states that U.S. law prevails in any trade conflict between the U.S. and other countries.
They claims that Section 102(a)(1) of the Uruguay Round states: “No provision of any of the Uruguay Round Agreement, nor the application of any such provision to any person or circumstance, that is inconsistent with any law of the United States shall have effect.”
The complaint continues: “The ruling by the WTO Appellate Body that declares COOL is a violation of the TBT Agreement, which was executed pursuant to, or under the auspices of, the Uruguay Round Agreement, and that attempts to intimidate the U.S. into modifying COOL to conform to the WTO’s interpretation of the TBT Agreement is inconsistent with the U.S. COOL law. Under Section 102(a)(1), U.S. law prevails over the ruling of the WTO Appellate Body because of the conflict.”
The cattlemen claim that their members will be harmed by the WTO’s actions.
“Plaintiff R-CALF USA and its members are harmed by any dilution of the country of origin law and do not want their domestic meat confused by the consumer with meat from Canada and Mexico,” the complaint states.
“Plaintiff Melonhead LLC is harmed by any weakening of country of origin legislation because it does not want Mexican and Canadian meat to be lumped together with meat from the United States. Melonhead’s customers desire U.S.-born, raised and processed beef and do no want confusion with Mexican and Canadian beef.”
The cattlemen ask the court to declare that the WTO ruling has no authority to override U.S. law and that its “decision concerning the Country of Origin Labeling Act is void in the United States and throughout the world.”
They also want the court to order Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to do his “legal duty” to enforce COOL and to order U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to cease and desist from negotiating with Canada and Mexico an amended and “watered-down” version of the Act.
Both Vilsack and Kirk are named as defendants. The cattlemen claim Vilsack and Kirk have no “legal right to amend or contravene this law by regulations or negotiations.”
The beef industry is represented by Joel Joseph, of Los Angeles.