The Trump Administration this week released a list of 24 trade practices, including Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), that trade negotiators should prioritize in future negotiations. National Farmers Union (NFU) is urging the administration to keep COOL on the list, and to ensure a reinstatement of COOL would be allowable under any renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“For thirty years, NFU has championed Country-of-Origin Labeling, and we strongly believe the issue is important to American producers and consumers alike,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “American producers raise the best beef and pork in the world, and they believe consumers should be able to know where the meat at the grocery store came from. The President should stick up for American consumers and producers by ensuring COOL is a priority for his administration’s trade negotiations.”
Mandatory COOL, first passed in 2002 and then again in 2008, required that muscle cuts of meat and some vegetables, nuts and fruits sold at retail must contain a label informing consumers about the country where the product was sourced. A May 2013 opinion poll showed more than 90 percent of consumers supported the law.
“COOL provided consumers with information they care about, and it allowed American family farmers and ranchers to differentiate their product,” noted Johnson.
The COOL law was repealed by Congress in December 2015 after a lengthy World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute with Canada and Mexico and pressure from multinational meatpackers. Faced with either making the law compliant by switching it to a voluntary system, paying more than $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs, or repealing the law, Congress chose to repeal the law. And when doing so, they even removed COOL labels from meats like ground beef and ground pork that were never at issue with the WTO.
“The U.S. Congress kowtowed to threats from an international tribunal and foreign governments, even as one of those foreign governments maintained a country-of-origin labeling system in their own country,” said Johnson. “The current administration has an opportunity to right an important consumer right to know and serious sovereignty issue here, and that is the ability of foreign governments or institutions to dictate the laws of our land.”
The administration’s priority list came just days after Brazil’s largest food-processing giants JBS and BRF were raided by government authorities for allowing rotten meat to be distributed in Brazil and exported to Europe.
“Without Country-of-Origin Labeling, cases such as this Brazilian rotten meat scandal can affect consumer confidence in the entire beef industry, harming American producers’ bottom line,” said Johnson.
“American consumers prefer meat from the U.S., and they used and preferred COOL to draw inferences related to a food product’s safety, taste and freshness. We’re hopeful Trump stands with American consumers, family farmers and ranchers, and negotiates a path forward for Country-of-Origin Labeling in the U.S.”