Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 12:00 PM
Canadian beef would be at a disadvantage, cattlemen say
By TIM HEARDEN
A Canadian cattlemen's group is sharply criticizing the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new mandatory country-of-origin labeling proposal, arguing it will make trade relations between the two countries worse.
The revised rule, for which a 60-day comment period began this week, would put Canadian beef at even more of a disadvantage while increasing the record-keeping burden on producers, said Dennis Laycraft, executive vice president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
"It's going to increase the amount of trade impairment from this rule, and quite frankly it's going to escalate the dispute," Laycraft told the Capital Press.
He said Canadian government officials have told him the revised rule would prompt a new complaint to the World Trade Organization, whose Appellate Body partially sided with Canada and Mexico over their initial complaint last summer.
The new rule, published March 11 in the Federal Register, would replace the current mixed-origin labels for muscle cuts of meat with more specific labels which might read, for example, "Born and raised in Canada and slaughtered in the United States."
Under the rule, meat derived from animals born, raised and slaughtered domestically could no longer be labeled as coming from multiple countries.
The change would help the U.S. respond to the WTO's concerns that the original law, enacted as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, failed to adequately fulfill its objective of providing consumers with information on the origin of food.
"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," Agricultural Marketing Service spokesman Sam Jones-Ellard told the Capital Press in an email.
"The proposed rule will ensure that consumers are provided with accurate origin information for muscle cut meats as Congress intended and bring the United States into conformity with its WTO obligations," Jones-Ellard said.
The USDA revised the labeling law after the WTO's Appellate Body in June overturned a lower panel's finding that mandatory country-of-origin labeling on beef and pork sold in the U.S. amounted to a trade barrier against Canada and Mexico.
However, the Appellate Body did agree with the lower panel's assertion that COOL has a detrimental impact on imported livestock because its record-keeping and verification requirements create an incentive for processors to use exclusively domestic livestock.
That incentive won't change under the new rule, Laycraft said. He added most consumers are more concerned with specific quality attributes of meat than they are country of origin.
"It's (the law has) done nothing to add value in North America," Laycraft said. "What it's done is interfere with the normal market integration that occurs in the U.S. and Canada in particular."
Domestically, the proposed revision has sparked divisions within the cattle industry along familiar lines. The U.S. Cattlemen's Association and Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America both hail the new rule, arguing it will bring the United States into compliance with the global trade body.
R-CALF is a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit filed last fall to stop the federal government from complying with the world body's ruling, which it asserts violates domestic law. The group said in a news release the revised rule would address many of the concerns raised in the lawsuit, including mixed-origin labels meat labels that R-CALF considers misleading.
However, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association believes the amended rule "will only further hinder our trading relationships with our partners, raise the cost of beef for consumers and result in retaliatory tariffs being placed on our export products," NCBA president Scott George said in a statement.
Canadian Cattlemen's Association: http://www.cattle.ca/
U.S. Department of Agriculture: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome