In March and April 2013, we wrote three articles (http://agpolicy.org/articles13.html) examining the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ruling that the U.S. mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) was inconsistent with the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade obligation to accord imported products treatment no less favorable than accorded to domestic product. In particular, the WTO found fault with 1) the “mixed origin” label for both beef and pork that allowed packers to commingle muscle cuts of U.S., Canadian, and Mexican origin and 2) the COOL label that did not convey where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered, though packers were required to collect that data.

The COOL statute covers beef, pork, lamb, chicken, goat meat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, perishable agricultural commodities, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts. The revised rule primarily focuses on beef and pork because other covered products either have few imports or the country in which they are grown is the same as the one in which they are processed.

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The July 23, 2012, WTO decision gave the U.S. until May 23, 2013, to come into compliance with its ruling or face the possibility of trade sanctions. On March 12, 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published proposed revised regulations that it believed would correct the problems found by the WTO.

Given the short timeframe, the AMS allowed only 30 days for a comment period, issued the final revised rule (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-05-24/pdf/2013-12366.pdf) on May 20, 2013, and made the rule effective May 23, 2013—instead of 30 days after publication in the Federal Register—to avoid the possibility of trade sanctions by Canada and Mexico.

To compensate for the short notice given to the beef and pork industries, the AMS established a 6-month period during which it “will conduct an industry education and outreach program concerning the provisions and requirements of this rule. AMS has determined that this allocation of resources will ensure that the industry effectively and rationally implements this final rule.” The AMS also allows “existing stock of muscle-cut covered commodities labeled in accordance with the 2009 COOL regulations that are already in the chain of commerce to clear the system.”