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COOL supporters push for appeal

WASHINGTON -- On Oct. 20, the World Trade Organization announced its ruling that the U.S. had failed to bring its of country-of-origin labeling for meat regulations fully in line with international fair trading rules, saying they still discrimina...

WASHINGTON -- On Oct. 20, the World Trade Organization announced its ruling that the U.S. had failed to bring its of country-of-origin labeling for meat regulations fully in line with international fair trading rules, saying they still discriminate against Canada and Mexico and cause damages to their producers.

The U.S. had lost an earlier challenge on the rule and was ordered to revise them.

The U.S. has 30 days to appeal the most recent ruling and the Obama administration has said it will consider an appeal. The Canadian government, U.S. meat packers and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association are urging the administration not to appeal and urging Congress to repeal the law that put labeling in place.

Meanwhile, the advocates of labeling, including Billings, Mont.-based R-CALF, the National Farmers Union and other organizations, are urging the Obama administration to appeal, and maintain that an appeals board is likely to modify the ruling.

Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said if the U.S. pursues the appeal of this most recent ruling and loses, Canada will exercise its right to impose punitive tariffs on U.S. products. Ritz also said Canada, in an effort to convince members of Congress to support repeal, will inform members of Congress of what products from their states would be subject to the tariff.

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Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., expressed disappointment in the WTO ruling, saying, "While this ruling once again lends support to the fact that we have the right to require country-of-origin labeling, and thus that the COOL law itself is fine, I'm disappointed with this ruling. The administration has the opportunity to appeal. In the meantime, I continue to oppose any Congressional efforts to tamper with COOL. Consumers have the right to know the origin of their meat."

Doug Sombke, president of the South Dakota Farmers Union, said, "In light of the recent WTO ruling, we urge Congress to listen to the people of this great nation. Any efforts to eliminate or restrict the core principles of COOL should be immediately rejected in the defense of the rights of American citizens."

The North Dakota Farmers Union said the ruling means the law will remain in place, but tweaked.

"What the ruling ultimately means is that repeated efforts by Canada and Mexico to stop U.S. consumers from knowing where their food comes from is an exercise in futility," said NDFU President Mark Watne. "Ninety percent of consumers want to know where their food comes from. Today's ruling supports consumers and livestock producers who aren't afraid to differentiate their products in the meat aisle."

Pursuing appeal

In an Oct. 23 call to reporters, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, U.S Cattlemen's Association President Danni Beer, Patrick Woodall of Food & Water Watch and Lori Wallach of Public Citizen all called on U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to appeal the case.

"The first thing we must do is appeal this decision," Roger Johnson said. "Undoubtedly the result of that appeal is going to be somewhat different."

"The only thing to do is to appeal," Wallach added.

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The legal merits depend on "contestable facts," she said, noting that the appeals panel is allowed to look at the facts, as well as the law. The appeals process could also create a timeline in which regulatory adjustments could be made, she said.

Beer said she thinks the cost of segregating cattle is not as high as the opponents have claimed. Woodall said most of the extra cost comes from record keeping rather than segregation itself.

Second system

In the conference call, Woodall noted that the WTO said the second system of labeling provided consumers with more information and accuracy than the first.

Roger Johnson also said requiring labels for more value-added meats would increase the benefit to consumers and diminish the argument that the costs to producers outweigh the benefits to consumers.

Roger Johnson said, "COOL is about more than promoting U.S. beef. It is about giving information to a consuming public that, as the years go by, wants more and more information, not less."

Asked whether the original COOL law was passed because U.S. producers believed the slaughterhouse industry was using Canadian cattle to lower prices in times of lower supplies in the U.S., Roger Johnson said the issue was that slaughterhouses were blending U.S. beef with other beef and passing it off as American.

"We continue our strong support of COOL to allow our customers to make informed decisions about the country of origin of their beef," said Bob Fortune, President of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. "This is not an unexpected ruling from the WTO, but we believe that we can find a solution to satisfy our trading partners and still retain strong labeling of the beef we raise in the United States."

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