USDA publishes proposed changes to country of origin labeling (COOL)

A proposed rule would change labeling on certain products, including meat, to still provide origin information while conforming to international trade agreements.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the proposed change to country of origin labeling (COOL) rule Friday. A pre-publication version currently is available on the Federal Register website, with the final version of the proposed rule scheduled to be published Tuesday.

The proposed rule would change the way “muscle cut covered commodities” are labeled to require origin designation to include information not only on where the meat came from (currently often listed as “Product of the U.S.”), but specifically where each step occurred such as where the animal was born, where it was raised and where it was slaughtered. Additionally, the rule also would not allow muscle cuts of different origins to be commingled, according to a USDA press release.

In the proposed rule, USDA estimates more than 7,000 companies will need to update country of origin information on their labels.

“USDA expects that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the current mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.

COOL, which was implemented in 2009, provides information to consumers about where the food they purchase comes from, including meat, vegetables, fruit, fish and shellfish.

Following a complaint filed by Canada and Mexico last summer, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body ruled the existing COOL law violated WTO rules on technical barriers to trade. The appellate body found COOL was not allowable because it led to “less favorable treatment” of meat from other countries and more favorable treatment of meat from the U.S.

However, despite upholding the ruling that COOL violates trade rules through favorable treatment, it also reversed a decision stating COOL does not fulfill the goal of giving information to customers regarding origin.

The latest move from USDA comes a few months before the May 23 deadline to comply with the WTO ruling.

Comments on the proposed rule are being accepted until April 11.

To read the full rule, click here.

To read Neogen blog’s coverage of COOL, click here.

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