Putting The Failed COOL Experiment Behind Us

Last month, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against the U.S. for the fourth and final time in an ongoing dispute between the United States, Canada, and Mexico regarding the U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) program. Since then, Canada and Mexico – our two largest trading partners – have announced they will seek well over $3 billion in retaliatory measures against the U.S. in the form of economically devastating tariffs on a broad spectrum of U.S. exports – from meat and fruit to jewelry, furniture, and biofuels. Ripple effects will be felt in nearly every industry, every state, and every consumer’s wallet. H.R. 2393 would prevent retaliation and bring the U.S. back into compliance with our international obligations.

In 2002, Congress enacted a mandatory country of origin labeling requirement for meat products. In a recently released congressionally mandated study, USDA estimated that it would cost approximately $2.6 billion for the livestock and meat industry to comply with COOL rules. These rules required livestock from outside the U.S. to be segregated through each step of production, raising the cost of utilizing imported livestock. Canada and Mexico quickly filed suit at the WTO claiming these rules are discriminatory and diminish the value of their livestock. The WTO agreed and has now ruled against the U.S. four times.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service, which enforces COOL, has repeatedly said that COOL is not a food safety program, but rather a marketing program. However, as a marketing program it is a failure – imposing significant costs on producers, packers, and consumers with no quantifiable benefits. According to a 2012 Kansas State University study, typical U.S. consumers are unaware of country of origin labeling and do not look for meat origin information when purchasing beef, pork and chicken products.

High compliance costs; no increase in demand; surely if consumers want this information they’d be willing to pay, right? Wrong! Multiple economic studies show no evidence suggesting that mandatory country of origin labeling in the U.S. retail meat markets has increased consumer demand. This isn’t shocking given that the label, if you can even find it, provides no useful information since the program has nothing to do with food safety or animal health.

Contrary to what supporters of COOL say, this labeling program has nothing to do with food safety. All meat products sold in the U.S., regardless of origin, must be inspected to equally rigorous standards. Country of origin labeling does not change any of these inspection requirements.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Vilsack has stated the Department has no further options for administrative remedies. This issue has to be fixed legislatively, through Congress by way of repeal. It is time to put this failed experiment behind us once and for all.

— House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway (R-TX)

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