In response to the determination of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body that the U.S. “COOL [Country of Origin Labeling] requirements were inconsistent with the [WTO Technical Barriers to Trade] Agreement’s national treatment obligation to accord imported products treatment no less favorable than that accorded to domestic products,” on March 12, 2013 the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) issued a proposed rule (read: regulation) to “bring the current mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations” (http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5103078). The U.S. was given until May 23, 2013 to come into compliance with the WTO ruling.

The first element of the proposed rule amends the definition of “retailer” in COOL regulations to “help clarify that all retailers that meet the [Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) of 1930] definition of a retailer, whether or not they actually have a PACA license, are also covered by COOL.” The rationale for making this change is not discussed in the proposed rule, but presumably the AMS believes it will help bring the U.S. into closer compliance with the determination of the WTO Appellate Body.

 

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In the proposed rule the AMS “require[s] that all origin designations for muscle cut covered commodities slaughtered in the United States specify the production steps of birth, raising, and slaughter of the animal from which the meat is derived that took place in each country listed on the origin designation. The requirement to include this information will apply equally to all muscle cut covered commodities derived from animals slaughtered in the United States. This requirement will provide consumers with more specific information on which to base their purchasing decisions without imposing additional recordkeeping requirements on [the] industry. The [AMS] considers that these changes…are consistent with the provisions of the statute.”

This change would address the Appellate Body’s concern that the information that the industry is required to collect is greater than the information that the retailer is required to make available to the consumer by making more detailed information on the country in which each of the production steps took place. As a result, for muscle cuts that previously were designated as “Product of the U.S.” the new label would read, “Born, Raised, and Slaughtered in the United States.”

For muscle cuts that were slaughtered in the U.S. but born and/or raised elsewhere, the AMS identifies two scenarios with respect to COOL.

“The first scenario deals with meat derived from animals that were born in another country (and thereby raised for a period of time) and were imported as feeder cattle that were further raised and slaughtered in the United States. For these products, current COOL regulations allow the origin to be designated as ‘Product of the U.S. and Country X.’ Under this proposed rule, as with U.S.-only origin products, the origin designation for these products would be required to include location information for each of the production steps.”