WTO Panel Rules Against Basis of COOL Regulations
November 21st, 2011
On Friday, November 18, a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute panel released a ruling against the major underpinnings of U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations that let consumers in the U.S. know the origins of meat products from cattle and hogs. The U.S. Trade Representative has not yet announced whether the U.S. will appeal this ruling.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson issued a statement stating NFU’s intent to work with USDA and the US Special Trade Representative to see whether the US regulations can be tweaked to come into compliance with the ruling. If not, NFU will push for the US to appeal the ruling.
Underlying the entire ruling is a fundamental flaw stemming from the WTO panel’s mindset. According to the panel’s ruling, the “consumers” of imported beef and hogs are not those of us who ultimately eat products from these animals. The “consumers” are the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and packinghouses, which are controlled or operated primarily by large multinational corporations that objected to the COOL rule because they prefer that we not know the origins of these products. That conclusion enabled the panel to rule that no matter where livestock originate, all meat products are “like products” because packing houses take that viewpoint.
The ruling also concluded that U.S. citizens are not interested in where their food comes from based on a perfunctory conclusion that we do not want to pay for voluntary programs for product origins.
And – even if we do care about the impacts on the environment, workers, the wellbeing of farmers and ranchers, animal welfare, public health or a myriad of other issues related to world trade in livestock, poultry and the products from these animals – we as citizens have no rights under the WTO framework to have our government require that information on food origins be provided in our food markets. While this ruling is specific to COOL, its logic could have ramifications for other forms of consumer labeling.
This WTO ruling is another example of why Congress should provide in the Farm Bill increased incentives for local and regional food production. And why we as citizens and consumers should insist on knowing where and how our food is being produced.