Country of Origin Labeling Creates Sticky Situation for Livestock Interests

Provisions in the farm bill address livestock disaster assistance, but groups say that's not enough to overcome language supporting COOL

Published on: Jan 29, 2014

Representatives from two large livestock organizations on Tuesday said the Country of Origin Labeling provisions in the 2014 farm bill will be the single element that causes them to oppose the entire bill.

National Cattlemens Beef Association president Scott George said in a teleconference that COOL – which requires labels on meat indicating where the originating animal was born, raised and slaughtered – creates a multitude of problems for livestock producers. The most significant, George said, is the threat of trade retaliation from Canada and Mexico.

"(Livestock producers) are tied to a railroad track with a runaway train coming down that's called retaliation," George said. "We know that this horrible thing is coming at us that has got to be dealt with."

Provisions in the farm bill address livestock disaster assistance, but groups say thats not enough to overcome language supporting COOL
Provisions in the farm bill address livestock disaster assistance, but groups say that's not enough to overcome language supporting COOL

The rule has been under intense scrutiny by the World Trade Organization and Canada and Mexico, which say it discriminates against imports and creates consumer bias. Supporters of the rule argue that it provides consumers with additional information about the origin of their food.

But per WTO rules, both Canada and Mexico have already released lists of items on which tariffs could be raised to retaliate against the U.S. for implementing the COOL rule. For Canada, the list includes meat, live cattle/swine, dairy and produce – even wooden office furniture.

Joining George on the call, National Association of Manufacturers Director of International Trade Policy Jessica Lemos said the retaliation will result in a WTO process that may last around two years.

The farm bill, however, is a chance to repeal COOL and avoid all of that, Lemos said.

Concerns of cost

Outside of retaliation issues, National Pork Producers Council President Randy Spronk joined George to explain concerns about COOL's cost of implementation. Those costs include extra labor and infrastructure needed to segregate animals based on their origin.

According to George, the Office of Budget and Management estimated an implementation cost of about $100 million after the latest COOL rule revision in May 2013. That cost is weighing on producers, he explained.

"Those costs are being borne by the retailers and the processors and they will pass those costs right back down to the consumer, right back down to the producer," George said. "So the producer is taking home less today than he could have been taking home if those costs were built in."

What about a compromise?

Both Spronk and George said the decision to oppose the entire farm bill based on the COOL regulation is needed. A vote for the bill, George commented, is "a vote for retaliation."

Though they said that other routes were considered, including voluntary COOL or labeling that specifies products of the U.S., no proposals were accepted.

Though the groups wouldn't comment on how many legislators they believe would support a no vote on the farm bill on the basis of COOL, George said the hope is that the bill will fail and return to conference committee for alteration.