The proposed country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) requires that the origin designation include information about where each of the production steps (born, raised and slaughtered) occurred. The proposal would eliminate the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.

Currently, if an animal is born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States, it is labeled “Product of the U.S.” The new rule would require the label to read “Born, Raised and Slaughtered in the U.S.” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, “USDA expects that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the current mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations.”

Reaction to the proposed rule from various groups was swift. The Canadian government said, “The proposed changes will increase the discrimination against exports of cattle and hogs from Canada and increase damages to the Canadian industry. Our government will consider all options, including retaliatory measures, should the United States not achieve compliance by May 23, 2013 as mandated by the WTO.”

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The American Meat Institute (AMI) said, “Only the government could take a costly, cumbersome rule like mandatory country-of-origin labeling and make it worse even as it claims to fix it.”

The National Farmers Union, a proponent of COOL, said, “The proposed rule changes released by OMB are an excellent response to decisions by the World Trade Organization that called for changes to our COOL implementation. By requiring further clarity in labels and stronger recordkeeping, the set of rules released today are a win-win for farmers, ranchers and consumers.”

In June 2012, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) affirmed an earlier WTO panel decision finding that the United States’ COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and thus were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The United States has until May 23 to come into compliance with the WTO. The proposed rule will be published today and is open for 30 days for public comments.

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