Reuters reports that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled that a US Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program "unfairly discriminated against Mexico and Canada, putting pressure on the United States to bring the scheme in line with global trade rules.
"The WTO Appellate Body said the U.S. country-of-origin labeling rules, commonly known as COOL, were wrong because they gave less favorable treatment to beef and pork imported from Mexico and Canada, the countries that brought the case, than to U.S. meat."
According to the story, "U.S. officials said the ruling allows the United States to continue to require country-of-origin labels, but Washington will have to change the way it runs the program to ensure it is not an impermissible trade barrier."
COOL became mandatory in the US in 2009, with some consumer advocates and agriculture interests saying that they would help shoppers make more informed decisions. Major meat processors, however, opposed the rules because of what they said would be increased costs and free trade issues.
In the wake of the decision, Erik Lieberman, regulatory counsel at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), released the following statement: “COOL has forced the industry to spend tens millions of dollars each year on unnecessary regulatory burdens – all for little-to-no benefit to consumers – which make it more expensive and difficult for supermarkets to provide customers with the consistent, high quality and affordable imported products they deserve.
“With the appeals process exhausted, it’s now time for Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address the wastefulness of the program and create a less burdensome system. In light of the ruling, FMI will be assessing changes to COOL so our nation can meet its obligations under global trade agreements. In cooperation with our supply chain partners, FMI will make the case to the government that our solution works best for consumers, the industry, farmers and our trading partners.”
I've always been a big fan of COOL, though I recognize that the way in which these regulations were designed and implemented were not the most efficient and effective. But I like the idea that at a time when so many products from so many places are coming across our borders, and so few of them are being inspected, that consumers at least can know where they are from so they can make intelligent buying decisions. Or at least informed buying decisions.
In addition, the notion of Made-in-the-USA labeling, also, I think, has tremendous marketing appeal ... and I thought that even before MNB had a sponsor that specializes in certification of such products. (I'm lucky - pretty much all the sponsors I have on MNB are companies that offer products and/or services that I believe in. But it is important that I disclose that when I come out in favor of Made-in-the-USA labeling and certification, I do have a vested financial interest.)