The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a final rule to change the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities covered under the Country of Origin Labeling program.
The final rule requires the origin destinations of muscle cut covered commodities to include information about where each of the production steps, such as where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered, occurred, and also removes the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts, AgriPulse reports.
“USDA remains confident that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations,” said Tom Vilsack, U.S. agriculture secretary, to an AgriPulse reporter.
In June 2012, the appellate body of the World Trade Organization affirmed an earlier WTO panel decision finding that the U.S.’s COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and thus were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The U.S. had until today, May 23, 2013, to come into compliance with the WTO ruling in COOL.
In March and April 2013, the USDA requested comments on the proposal to change labeling requirements in response to the WTO ruling.
However, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has condemned the USDA’s ruling:
“We are deeply disappointed with this short-sighted action by the USDA,” said Scott George, president of NCBA and a Cody, Wyo.-based dairy and cattle producer, in a written statement. “Our largest trading partners have already said that these provisions will not bring the United States into compliance with our WTO obligations and will result in increased discrimination against imported products and in turn retaliatory tariffs or other authorized trade sanctions.”
“While trying to make an untenable mandate fit with our international trade obligations, USDA chose to set up U.S. cattle producers for financial losses,” George continued. “As cattlemen and women, we do not oppose voluntary labeling as a marketing tool to distinguish product and add value. However, USDA is not the entity that we want marketing beef, and on its face, a label that says ‘harvested’ is unappealing to both consumers and cattle producers.”