World Trade Organization: U.S. rules about country of origin label on meat wrong

The U.S. must make changes to a program requiring the labeling of meat with its country of origin, following a ruling handed down from the World Trade Organization (WTO) today.

The law required U.S. grocers to label beef, pork, chicken and lamb with their country of origin, or post signs with the information. It was implemented in 2009, with reactions to the law split between those who said consumers had a right to know and those who worried about trade disruptions, according to CNBC.

Today’s ruling by the WTO’s Appellate Body confirmed a November decision from another WTO panel that said the requirement violated WTO member rules on technical barriers to trade.

The appellate body found the U.S.’s country-of-origin labeling rules, or COOL, were not allowable because it led to “less favorable treatment” of meat from other countries and more favorable treatment of meat from the U.S.

The complaint was brought by Canada and Mexico.

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.

So what happens next? U.S. officials said the U.S. still can require the labels, but must make changes to the COOL program to prevent any barriers to trade, according to CNBC.

Proponents of the COOL program say consumers have a right to know where their food comes from. They also worry it could make tracking foodborne illness outbreaks more difficult if meat isn’t labeled.

Opponents say it was costly and violated trade agreements. For example, meat-packing plants in the U.S., especially those near the Canadian border, cut back on or stopped importing Canadian cows because they had to segregate them away from domestically-raised cattle.

The countries that brought the complaint have until September to decide when the U.S. must comply with the ruling by – up to 15 months.

What does it take to get a U.S. label?

For meat to be labeled as originating from the U.S., the source animal must be born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. Animals that are raised in other nations, such as Canada or Mexico, and brought to the U.S. are labeled as having mixed origin.

To read the full story by CNBC, click here.

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