February 18, 2013

USDA submits COOL rule to OMB

From: Feedstuffs

Jacqui Fatka

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has submitted a draft rule country-of-origin labeling rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review, according to an official who works for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The World Trade Organization recently required USDA to adjust COOL requiring U.S. retailers to clearly label where meat was raised and processed. WTO said although the U.S. can require meat labeling, current COOL rules do not meet WTO standards, and the U.S. has until May 23 to bring its COOL rules into compliance.

“While we cannot discuss the specifics of that draft rule, we can say that the draft rule proposes to modify the COOL labeling provisions for muscle cut meats including beef (including veal), lamb (including mutton), pork, goat, and chicken,” said Sam Jones-Ellard, AMS public affairs specialist.

Jones-Ellard said he was unable to give an estimated timeline of when the rule would be published, but noted that all interested parties will have an opportunity to comment on any proposed regulatory action.

“We can assure you that any proposed changes to the COOL regulations will be consistent with our commitment to ensure that consumers are provided with accurate origin information as Congress intended,” Jones-Ellard added.

In recent weeks a bipartisan coalition of senators led by Sens. Jon Tester (D., Mont.), Mike Enzi (R., Wyo.) and Tim Johnson (D., S.D.) called on USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative to ensure that consumers are still able to determine the origin of their meat while still providing some flexibility.

COOL was passed in the 2002 Farm Bill, but a final rule wasn’t implemented until March 2009. Canada and Mexico challenged the ruling at the WTO and three panelists found that U.S. COOL reduces demand for cattle imports from Mexico and hog imports from Canada.

On December 4, 2012, the WTO issued a ruling that directed the United States to bring COOL into compliance with its June 29 decision by May 23, 2013. Since that time, the USDA and the USTR have been considering whether to modify the COOL statute through congressional action, modify the COOL regulations through an agency rulemaking, or do both.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) and the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), released a legal analysis Feb. 12 that details the available options for successful U.S. compliance for COOL.

The analysis finds that USDA can come into compliance with the WTO appellate body by amending the COOL regulations. Their analysis found that compliance could be achieved by providing more information and more accurate details to consumers.

“It would not require producers or processors to collect additional information; it would merely require strengthening the regulations so that the information is provided to the consumer,” a statement from the groups noted.

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