US union calls bill to repeal country of origin labelling ’premature, reactionary’

Roger Johnson, President of the US National Farmers Union has called a House bill to repeal the popular Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), “premature and reactionary,” noting that there remains ample opportunity for the administration, Mexico and Canada to negotiate an acceptable path forward.

“The best thing Congress could do is to step aside while the WTO process continues,” said Johnson. “As has happened with past disputes, WTO members can work together to find a solution that will work for them,” said Johnson. “In this case, such a solution must involve continuation of a meaningful process step – born, raised and slaughtered – labeling requirement.”

“Unfortunately, opponents of consumer labeling laws have jumped on the opportunity to repeal COOL, when instead they should be spending their time and energy focusing on giving consumers information they want, which is a label with the origin of their food,” said Johnson.

“We need thoughtful leadership, not reactionary legislation,” he said. “We urge members to stay off the bill.”

He said while the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has issued its decision, there is still ample opportunity for the administration, Mexico and Canada to negotiate an acceptable path forward.

“As we have seen in other disputes, once decisions are handed down, WTO members often work together to find a solution that will work for them,” said Johnson. “In this case, such a solution must involve continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labeling requirement.”

Johnson pointed out that there have been various press reports in recent weeks indicating that the administration will work with Canada and Mexico on COOL. “We support that approach to the extent it results in a mutually agreed result that provides consumers meaningful information on the meat products they purchase, including the country where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. With the significant interest by consumers in knowing where their food comes from, any other result is not acceptable,” he said.

“While those who have opposed giving consumers more information on where their meat products are from have focused on potential retaliation, retaliation is relevant only if the parties cannot reach an agreement on how to move forward and then only after an arbitration process,” said Johnson. “And the amount of any retaliation is by definition speculative at best and aimed to raise alarm where none is warranted. Indeed, looking at the recent report from Dr. Robert Taylor at Auburn University, there is significant evidence indicating that any harm to our trading partners has in fact been negligible at most,” he said.

“Congress may well have a role to play once the administration has worked with our trading partners following today’s decision if a statutory modification is deemed warranted by the administration, but the time for action is not now,” said Johnson. “Those who find value in greater information to consumers on where their food products are from want to see the administration work with Canada and Mexico for a resolution that maximizes the information to consumers in all three countries, not see a retreat from information that helps consumers make informed purchasing decisions,” he said.

“The U.S. as a sovereign country can decide how and whether to implement the adverse ruling,” said Johnson.

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