By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- The American Farm Bureau Federation is backing legislation in Congress to repeal country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork and poultry.
Dale Moore, chief of staff for AFBF, said the Farm Bureau board has been discussing COOL since the first World Trade Organization ruling on country-of-origin labeling, but the latest decision by a WTO appellate board earlier this month forced Farm Bureau leaders to consider the need to repeal the law.
Farm Bureau's policy supports country-of-origin labels for all commodities, though it does not specify if that should be "mandatory," Moore noted. The policy also states that COOL should be WTO-compliant.
Four WTO rulings since 2011 on issues regarding the segregation and treatment of Canadian and Mexican livestock make it clear that the WTO does not believe COOL meets its standards because those Canadian and Mexican animals are treated less favorably than domestic livestock.
"With this last appeal and the WTO ruling against, or rejecting, the U.S. appeal, that put us in the camp now not only have we made it clear that we support a COOL that is not WTO compliant, but it also makes it clear that Canada and Mexico are now eligible to start imposing sanctions on the tariff sides or some type of other restrictions that could impact commodities," Moore said.
Conversations with USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative's Office and on Capitol Hill indicate there does not seem to be a path for USDA to get around the problems with packers regarding the handling of foreign livestock and labels the way the law is written.
In light of that risk, AFBF President Bob Stallman and the Farm Bureau board said they took their stance to protect other country-of-origin rules for other commodities, Moore said. Getting rid of COOL on beef and pork prevents two of the country's largest trading partners from slapping tariffs on other products.
The Texas Farm Bureau issued a news release Thursday announcing it supports repealing COOL for pork and beef. The Texas affiliate's board voted unanimously May 21 to back the bill (HR2393) put forward by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, a Republican from Texas.
"Chairman Conaway's legislation is a good fix," said Russell Boening, president of the Texas Farm Bureau. "It simply removes the offending provisions on beef, pork and poultry. Problem solved."
Yet, not every state affiliate is taking that stance. Bob Hanson, president of the Montana Farm Bureau, wrote Stallman last week expressing his concern about AFBF backing an outright repeal of the law. Hanson pointed out his Montana members are proud of the quality of meat they produce and believe consumers want to support products from American farmers and ranchers. Hanson also noted in his letter that he realized other state Farm Bureau presidents were concerned about retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico.
"Having said that, I represent Montana ranchers who primarily raise beef and have made their position very plain through policy discussions," Hanson wrote.
Conaway's bill, which had bipartisan support at the committee level, could come to the floor after the House returns from its break next week. So far, however, a similar bill has not been brought up by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
As farm groups and Congress move to eliminate COOL, USDA is working to increase imports of beef that would not require any label of origin. Last Friday, USDA sent separate proposed rules to the White House regarding the importation of beef from a region in Brazil and importation of beef from a region in Argentina. USDA has been working since 2013 on approval of the plan for beef imports from Brazil. The plan would allow imports of beef from 14 out of Brazil's 27 individual states. Imports would be restricted to two states in Argentina. USDA listed both the Brazil and Argentina rules as "economically significant," meaning they would affect the economy by at least $100 million.
"These new final rules come on the heels of the World Trade Organization ruling that found USDA's country-of-origin labeling regulations to be impediments to free trade. Consequently, consumers may not know at the meat counter whether the products they buy come from countries that have had a history of animal health and, or food safety problems," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, which highlighted the proposed import proposals earlier this week.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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