October 22, 2014

The United States' neighbors to the north and south are threatening sanctions over a requirement to label the country of origin on meat products sold in the States.

Canada last week released a long list of products – ranging from high fructose corn syrup to certain jewelry - that would be subject to tariffs if the U.S. didn't drop the Country of Origin Label (COOL) requirement as ruled by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Monday, the WTO released a report that asserted the labeling rules unfairly discriminate against meat imports and give the advantage to domestic meat producers.

The labels were mandated in 2008, but revamped in 2012 after the WTO said they were discriminatory.

Under the rule, meat producers are required to state where the animals was born, raised and slaughtered. Canadian beef and pork producers claim the requirement cost them $900 million in losses each year.

American meat producers have also been long against the rule.

"COOL is a failed program that will soon cost not only the beef industry, but the entire U.S. economy, with no corresponding benefit to consumers or producers," National Cattleman's Beef Association president Bob McCan said in a statement. McCan said the producers have suffered deep discounts and were forced to close feed lots and packing plants due to the requirement.

Consumer advocates and other supporters said that labels are intended to give consumers the information they need to make informed decisions about the products they purchase. The WTO backed up this claim in its report.

"People have the right to know where the food they feed their families comes from. It is nonsensical that a label that lets consumers know the origin of their food is a trade barrier," said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter in a statement." The WTO's continued assault against commonsense food labels is just another example of how corporate-controlled trade policy undermines the basic protections that U.S. consumers deserve."

According to Food Safety News, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representatives said that all options were being considered, including the possibility of appealing the ruling.