Brown to Obama Administration: Appeal WTO Ruling So Americans Can Know Where Their Food is Coming From

World Trade Organization Review Panel Rules that USDA Country of Origin Labeling Requirements Undermine Canadian and Mexican Livestock

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today joined a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators urging the Obama Administration to appeal a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that would prevent certain agricultural imports from having to comply with new country-of-origin labeling (COOL). Brown fought to pass COOL requirements as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

“Ohio consumers deserve to make informed decisions when it comes to food they put on the table,” Brown said. “When common sense labeling falls under attack in a trade tribunal, we need to push back. I will work to see that these strong labeling requirements work for Ohio families.”

In December 2008, Canada and Mexico—which impose their own COOL requirements on imported meats—initiated dispute settlement proceedings against the United States related to country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements for meat products. Among other claims, Canada and Mexico alleged that the COOL statute, COOL implementing regulations, and a USDA letter related to the COOL requirements, were discriminatory. On November 18, the WTO ruled that American COOL requirements treat Mexican and Canadian livestock less favorably than U.S.- origin livestock and violate U.S. World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations. In a letter to USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk, 19 U.S. Senators urged the USDA and USTR to appeal the Dispute Settlement Panel’s (DSP) ruling and to ensure that the COOL program meets international trade obligations while providing critical information to consumers.  

Brown has fought for heightened transparency and increased food safety regulations. Two of Brown’s provisions were included in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010, passed in November 2010. The final bill included important provisions to establish a nationwide traceability system through the FDA that would establish a product tracing system and develop additional recordkeeping requirements for foods determined to be “high risk.” The final bill also includes a provision to provide FDA with the authority to order food recalls when a firm fails to voluntarily recall dangerous food products – a provision Brown has long fought for. By providing FDA with mandatory recall authority, the bill addresses the existing inability of the federal government to recall tainted food.

Brown also introduced the Dairy COOL Act, which would extend COOL requirements to include dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and butter. In 2008 Brown sponsored a bill that would extend COOL to processed foods and prescription drugs. In 2007, Brown and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Imported Food Security Act of 2007, which would mandate that foreign imports meet the same or better standards as those of the U.S. and give the FDA the authority to approve and disapprove a country’s import eligibility.

Full text of the letter is below.

December 14, 2011

Secretary Tom Vilsack                                                Ambassador Ron Kirk
U.S. Department of Agriculture                                  Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
1400 Independence Ave., SW                                      600 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20250                                               Washington, DC 20508

Dear Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Kirk:

We write regarding the November 18, 2011, World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Panel (DSP) finding affirming arguments made by Canada and Mexico over the implementation of the United States Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law.  The DSP validated the statutory authority for the United States to require such labeling; however, the panel also found that the manner in which the program was implemented treats cattle and hogs from those countries less favorably than U.S.-origin livestock.  While we are pleased that the DSP affirmed our right to require such labeling, we are concerned about the impact that the DSP’s ruling will have on our ability to continue providing such information to consumers.

As you are aware, included in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill) was a common sense plan for implementing a food labeling program to provide consumers with information about the origins of the food they purchase.  It was the intention of Congress in developing this provision that such labeling would be nondiscriminatory in its treatment of imported products by requiring the labeling of both domestic as well as imported products.

With that goal in mind, we appreciate the thoughtful rulemaking process undertaken by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) of USDA in developing the rule implementing COOL.  While we believe that improvements should have been made to the final rule, we believe that it appropriately establishes a labeling system which provides important and useful information to consumers while not placing an undue burden on the industry.  Additionally, we believe that the labeling system continues to provide the same opportunity for imported livestock to compete in the domestic marketplace as was the case prior to USDA’s implementation of COOL.

We appreciate the work you have done in defending both the COOL statute and its implementation before the WTO’s dispute settlement proceedings.  As you know, many of our major trading partners, including Canada and Mexico, themselves impose their own country of origin labeling requirements for imported meats.  As such, it is clear that it is within our authority under our WTO obligations to implement such a program.

We request that your agencies take appropriate actions to appeal the DSP’s ruling and to work to ensure that our COOL program both meets our international trade obligations while continuing to provide such information to consumers.  We appreciate your attention to this matter, and we look forward to working with you moving forward.



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