Proposed COOL Changes Met With Mixed Reaction

Proposed Country of Origin Labeling plan doesn't satisfy some groups, provides acceptable option for others

Published on: Mar 12, 2013

The Office of Management and Budget on Friday released USDA's proposed changes to Country of Origin Labeling rules, addressing issues of World Trade Organization compliance.

Under the proposed rule, origin designations for animals slaughtered in the United States would be required to specify the production steps of birth, raising, and slaughter of the animal. In addition, this proposed rule would eliminate the allowance for any commingling of muscle cut covered commodities of different origins.

The WTO officially ruled the original COOL provision non-compliant in June, 2012, and later announced a May 23, 2013, deadline for U.S. compliance.

Proposed Country of Origin Labeling plan doesnt satisfy some groups, provides acceptable option for others
Proposed Country of Origin Labeling plan doesn't satisfy some groups, provides acceptable option for others

Prior to the official ruling, importing countries said the COOL rule, which allowed the country of origin to be displayed on packaging, gave U.S. products an unfair advantage.

COOL has also been a point of contention for ag groups, too – some say it is a barrier to trade, while others say it provides consumers the right to choose from where their food comes.

Likewise, ag and livestock groups released varying reactions to the USDA's proposed changes; National Farmers Union heralded the plan while the American Meat Institute and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association weren't impressed.

NFU, which released an exploratory framework in February, supports options that will provide more information to end-users.

"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," NFU President Roger Johnson said. "By requiring further clarity in labels and stronger recordkeeping, the set of rules released today are a win-win for farmers, ranchers and consumers."

The American Meat Institute, however, opposed the proposed rule. AMI President J. Patrick Boyle said as it stood, COOL was conceptually flawed, and would create more cost to be passed on to consumers.

"The proposed rule is even more onerous, disruptive and expensive than the current regulation implemented in 2009," Boyle said in a press statement.

He pointed out that a plant or grocery retailer that currently labels its product "Product of the U.S." would now have to change the labels on its packages to read, "Born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S."

NCBA President Scott George said also that he expected the regulations to cause a greater recordkeeping burden processors and retailers.

"…This combined with the elimination of the ability to comingle muscle cuts, will only further add to the costs of processing non-U.S. born, raised and slaughtered products," George said. "The end result will be hesitancy to process imported product and increased instances of less favorable treatment of foreign product, giving our trading partners a stronger case at the WTO."

Notice of the proposed rule will be displayed in the March 11, 2013 Federal Register and can be viewed at www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection. Comments must be received by April 11, 2013.