Canadian livestock producers want their government to start trade actions against the United States over a new trade law that is already starting to curtail beef and pork trade to American markets.

Since mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) became effective on Oct. 1, a growing number of U.S. meat plants are denying Canadian cattle and hogs access for processing.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Canadian Pork Council want COOL challenged under the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization rules, and they want a ruling before Dec. 1, 2008.

The request is being made now because Canadians fear the new U.S. administration could ramp up trade protectionism.

Under COOL, Canadian cattle and pigs must be segregated in U.S. feedlots and packing plants, prompting some firms to only handle U.S. livestock. Canadian animals are also required to have more documentation about their farm of origin, and cattle must carry tags that indicate they are free of mad cow disease.

Those measures have further pressured financially strapped Canadian producers.
Presidents of cattle and hog groups have written Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper about their plight.

The Canadian Pork Council (CPC) said U.S. hog processing companies, such as Smithfield Foods and Hormel Foods, have already indicated they will only buy U.S. hogs. Other U.S. processors have said they will only buy Canadian pigs on certain days at selected plants.

The CPC estimates losses will reach about $350 million annually if COOL remains in place.

Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says government officials will work to influence the final legislation prior to filing any trade action.

COOL passed on Oct. 1 is called an interim rule. The final rule is expected to be passed next year.