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Senators Want U.S. to Appeal WTO Ruling Against Origin Labeling for Agricultural Products

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Nineteen senators wrote to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week urging the U.S. to appeal a World Trade Organization decision that the U.S. mandatory country of origin labeling requirements for various agricultural products are inconsistent with U.S. multilateral obligations.

The 2008 Farm Bill revised previous mandatory COOL requirements to provide that in order for a commodity to be labeled as a product of the U.S. all production activities associated with the commodity have to occur on U.S. soil or in U.S. waters. For products produced in the integrated North American marketplace, the label must indicate every country in which a stage of production has taken place. The 2008 Farm Bill also imposed mandatory COOL requirements for muscle cuts and ground beef, pork, lamb, goat, and chicken, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and ginseng.

The senators raised concerns about the impact that the WTO ruling will have on the ability to continue providing country of origin information to consumers. They asserted that the Farm Bill set forth “a common sense plan for implementing a food labeling program” and that it was the intention of Congress that COOL labeling “would be nondiscriminatory … by requiring the labeling of both domestic as well as imported products.” They also expressed support for the Department of Agriculture regulations implementing the COOL requirements, which they believe continue to provide the same opportunity for imported livestock to compete in the domestic marketplace. They therefore urged USTR and USDA to “take appropriate actions to appeal the [WTO] ruling and to work to ensure that our COOL program meets our international trade obligations while continuing to provide such information to consumers.”

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