That Ain't COOL - Country Of Origin Labeling

Why Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) Got Dropped

I saw one of those internet memes floating about on Facebook that Congress just voted a law requiring that meat, chicken, etc. packagers did not have to label where their product was produced. They had to do this previously, but no longer. My initial thought was “Why the hell would someone do something dumb like that?!”. Food quality is critically important, and there are always horror stories of some places that are not the best at producing a healthy product. In some cases, it can be quite harmful. At the very least, as person has the right to know where their food is produced so they can make their own decisions.

So it seems like a no brainer that the country of origin should be on your food. In fact, it was such a good idea, that it became law, Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL), passed by Congress in 2002, enacted in 2008 thru 2009. It was estimated that 90% of consumers favored it. So why did it just get repealed?

Apparently due to some international trade agreements the US has entered into (governed by WTO), member countries have a right to file a grievance if they feel one member is treating them, and specifically their goods unfairly. In this case, Canada and Mexico claimed that their protein products (meat, chicken, etc.) were being discriminated against because they were not produced (raised, slaughtered and processed/packaged) in the US. The fact that a package of steaks had “Made In The USA (not exactly the labeling, but you get the point) was an unfair advantage. The US disagreed, but the grievance was filed and found in favor of Canada and Mexico. This allows them to apply tariffs to US goods in an equal amount of the estimated damages of the US actions. Note the products with the tariffs did not necessarily have to be food protein products. For example, one of the items Canada listed was wine. One of Mexico’s items was plastic tableware.

What this means is that other US industries, even though they were not involved in the dispute, would be adversely impacted. One could guess their reaction. Yeah, that ain’t cool…..

One of my thoughts was that the US could repeal a law, but companies could label the origins of their products anyway. It would be part of the “advertising” so to speak. Canada fought back against this saying it still had the same effect and won. So a company can’t even disclose where the food was produced, even if they wanted to. So much for freedom of speech.

As of December 2015, COOL is no longer being enforced by the FDA for beef and pork. It still appears to be required for chicken and lamb (for how long I wonder?). Some groups are already working to get a WTO friendly version of COOL enacted.

So what does this all mean? US laws can be overturn by trade agreements? What does this mean for national sovereignty? Free speech, as in voluntary labeling, can be overturned as well? Will some companied try to find a loophole? Will some companies shift production to places that are known for unsafe food production?

Country-of-Origin Labeling for Foods and the WTO Trade Dispute on Meat Labeling
Joel L. Greene
Analyst in Agricultural Policy December 8, 2015
Congressional Research Service

US Repeals Country-of-Origin Meat Labeling Law After Trade Rulings Against It
Mary Clare Jalonick

Quashing Consumers' Right-To-Know, Congress Repeals Country-Of-Origin- Labeling For Beef And Pork
Nancy Fink Huehnergarth
Forbes/ Food & Agriculture DEC 21, 2015 @ 04:56 PM

Meat Brawls
Kim LaCapria Dec 31, 2015