Do you want to know where your food came from? Well, Congress made this really COOL law in 2002 that gives you all the information you want right at your fingertips. COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) was signed into law as part of the 2002 Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (known as the 2002 Farm Bill) and amended by the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act. (House Agriculture Committee) This law requires retailers to provide country-of-origin labeling for foods including fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, shellfish, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, ginseng, and ground and muscle cuts of beef, pork lamb, chicken and goat. The authorization and implementation of this mandatory federal labeling program has been controversial, especially surrounding the meat products.
How exactly do these USDA regulations work? For example, roasts from cattle raised in Mexico for slaughter in the US would say, “Born and raised in Mexico, slaughtered in the United States.” Imported meat would be tagged as “Product of” of the originating country. These regulations would not apply to processed food or food purchased in restaurants. Those that advocated against mandatory COOL said that it would provide U.S. products with a competitive advantage over foreign products. If offered a clear choice, U.S. consumers prefer fresh foods of domestic origin, thereby strengthening demand and prices for locally grown food. Many countries and parts of the meat industry fought against this law, arguing that it violated the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) regulations preventing barriers to free trade. In order to comply with WTO regulations, Congress amended the law. COOL was approved by the WTO in 2013. (World Trade Organization)
A worried meatpacking industry, grocers, and livestock producers filed suit in 2013 in a federal court, alleging that the final 2013 COOL rules violate their constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech, that the labels were not specifically authorized by the Farm Bill, and that COOL labels provide no benefit to consumers. They also stated that COOL would drive up their costs and become a book-keeping nightmare. The meatpackers that have filed this lawsuit include nine trade associations including one Mexican and two Canadian livestock-producer groups as well as six domestic meatpacker or meatpacker-producer groups. (American Meat Institute) Four groups representing farmers, ranchers, rural communities, and consumers have filed court papers to defend COOL. On Wednesday, September 11, 2013 Judge Ketanji Jackson, from U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the meatpacking industry their injunction, refusing to stop mandatory COOL Law from being implemented. Canada and Mexico are bringing the amended law in front of the WTO once again as a U.S. trade barrier. The law is slated to take affect starting in November, 2013. Members of America’s beef and pork industry issued a plea to hold off on enforcement of the new COOL Law requirements until the WTO has an opportunity to hear Canada and Mexico’s challenge to the new regulations. The meatpacking industry is arguing that the new law takes discrimination to a new level by not only requiring labeling, but also preventing comingled packaging. The prevention of mixed-label packaging will likely encourage consumers to buy products born, raised, and slaughtered solely in the U.S. (Ecowatch). If the WTO rules in favor of Canada and Mexico on their appeal, the law will have to be rewritten or the U.S. will risk facing retaliatory tariffs. When consumers prioritize country of origin labeling or the price tag when purchasing their meat. Consumers making an informed decision is COOL.