U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) has called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk to uphold mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) as they develop corrective measures required by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Senator Johnson and Sens. Tester (D-MT), Enzi (R-WY) and Grassley (R-IA) led a bipartisan group of 31 senators in fighting to ensure that no changes are made to the program that contradict the intent of Congress.

“The COOL requirements agreed to by Congress provide valuable information for American consumers about where their food comes from, and promote the hard work of our farmers and ranchers,” Johnson says. “I am glad that the WTO’s decision upholds the law itself, which I authored, and will fight to ensure that as the regulations are reshaped to fit WTO requirements, its integrity and intent are not lost.”

The WTO recently affirmed the legitimacy of COOL, but upheld complaints by Canada and Mexico that the program treats imported livestock less favorably than domestic livestock. Last month, the WTO announced that the United States must be in compliance with this ruling by May 23, 2013.

Johnson has worked for the last decade to implement COOL since he authored the provision in the 2002 Farm Bill. COOL passed Congress, and was signed into law again in the 2008 Farm Bill following roadblocks to implementation under the Bush Administration. The letter to Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Vilsack outlines key principles that the Administration should follow as it implements changes to COOL that will ensure the program is carried out as Congress intended.

A Copy of the Letter is Below:

January 31, 2013

The Honorable Tom Vilsack The Honorable Ron Kirk

Secretary United States Trade Representative

Department of Agriculture Executive Office of the President

1400 Independence Ave. SW 600 17th St. NW

Washington, D.C. 20250 Washington, D.C. 20508

Dear Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Vilsack,

We are writing regarding the decision by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Dec. 4, 2012 that the United States must implement the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) decision on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) by May 23, 2013.

While we disagree with the DSB decision and the June 29, 2012 Appellate Body decision, we appreciate that the WTO recognized the United States’ legitimate authority to require country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork products. Following a deliberative and thorough process which has lasted more than 10 years, Congress enacted COOL in response to demand from consumers and livestock producers that reliable information be available about where their meat and seafood come from.

It is now critical that the U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Department of Agriculture work together to find a regulatory solution that can be implemented by the livestock industry and that serves consumers as Congress intended. Given that the COOL regulation is highly technical in nature, it is increasingly important that both agencies work with stakeholders to find an acceptable remedy while ensuring that any changes to COOL meet the intent of Congress.

As you work toward implementing the WTO decision to avoid retaliation, we request that you focus on remedies that meet three critical principles.

 

  • Focus on a regulatory fix to the rules that implement the COOL statute. The WTO Appellate Body found that providing consumer information on the origin of meat is a “legitimate objective” as was intended by the U.S. law. Instead, it was the implementation of the 2009 final COOL rule that was inconsistent with the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement.
  • Ensure that a regulatory fix provides accurate information about the origin of all meat cuts to consumers. Congress intended that COOL provide as much information as possible about the origin of the meat that consumers purchase. Some flexibility is needed so that COOL can be reasonably implemented, but such flexibility cannot come at the expense of providing reliable information to families about the national origin of meat products.
  • Work actively with industry stakeholders when crafting new regulations and allow the opportunity for public comment from consumers, livestock producers and industry representatives. We also request that you keep interested members of Congress informed on any progress to a regulatory fix to COOL.

 

Thank you very much for your work on behalf of country-of-origin labeling and we look forward to working with you to resolve this issue.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Jon Tester

U.S. Senator Michael B. Enzi

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden

U.S. Senator John Barrasso

U.S. Senator John Thune

U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp

U.S. Senator Tom Udall

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar

U.S. Senator Al Franken

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein

U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill

U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin

U.S. Senator David Vitter

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal

U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski

U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin

U.S. Senator Mark Begich

U.S. Senator John Hoeven

U.S. Senator Carl Levin

U.S. Senator Patrick J. Leahy

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand