US, Canada spat over COOL continues

US, Canada spat over COOL continues

A rift between the US and Canada has deepened over country-of-origin labelling regulations for meat products.

The US food industry has long-objected to the World Trade Organisation's 2008 COOL rules for meat products, insisting they are an unnecessary regulatory burden.

A complaint was brought before the WTO arbitration service by Canada and Mexico, highlighting the US's failure to comply with the WTO's COOL rules. In December the Obama Administration was given a deadline of 23 May to alter its labelling policy in order to bring it into compliance with the country's WTO commitments.

The US Department for Agriculture has responded with a compromise deal. The proposed rule would modify the labelling provisions for muscle cuts to require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps (i.e., born, raised, slaughtered) occurred and would remove the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.

"USDA expects that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the current mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations," said US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

However, the Canadian minister for agriculture Gerry Ritz has rejected the US proposals, insisting they do not go far enough to comply with the WTO mandate.

"We do not believe that the proposed changes will bring the United States into compliance with its WTO obligations," Ritz commented. "The proposed changes will increase the discrimination against exports of cattle and hogs from Canada and increase damages to Canadian industry."

Ritz said Canada would now consider "all options" including "regulatory measures".

"We will continue to stand with Canadian cattle and hog producers against unfair country-of-origin labelling in the US."