WTO Says Don’t Tell Americans Where Their Meat Comes From

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget is now weighing proposed regulations designed to resolve last year’s finding by the World Trade Organization (WTO) that U.S. rules give American meat products an unfair advantage over those from Canada and Mexico.

Inaction by the federal government would clear the way for those nations — the United States’s top two meat trading partners — to impose retaliatory tariffs that would inflict pain on American meat producers and packers.

At issue are federal country-of-origin labeling rules that became mandatory in the United States in 2009, after years of debate. Known as COOL, the program is meant to give consumers more information about the food they eat by requiring labels on packaging that show where certain cuts of meat came from.

The rules have forced U.S. meat packers to take steps to segregate the products, driving up costs. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) opposes the rules, saying they are threatening trade relationships with Canada and Mexico that each amount to $1 billion annually.

The two countries challenged the rules. Ultimately an appellate body within the WTO ruled in their favor, ordering that the U.S. come into compliance by May 23, or face possible sanctions.

“From our perspective, people want to know where their food is from,” said Jess Peterson, executive vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

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