Country-of-origin labeling policy slowing livestock imports from Canada

Between 2008 and 2013, exports of nondairy cattle from Canada to the United States for feeding or slaughter declined by one-third (see table). Over that same time period, Canadian hog exports declined by nearly half. Slaughterhouses and feeding facilities have been affected as well.

This fall, a World Trade Organization compliance panel ruled against the U.S. labeling regulations, saying they violated international trade obligations. The case against COOL was brought to the WTO by Canada and Mexico.

The current U.S. requirements force meatpackers to discriminate against foreign animals, the WTO panel found, and prevent Canadian and Mexican producers from selling their animals in the United States. The United States could appeal the WTO ruling, and congressional changes to the labeling rules are also possible. 

But as it stands now, the United States could face WTO-approved trade sanctions from Canada and Mexico, with countervailing duties potentially impacting U.S. producers of meat, cheese, wine and other goods. COOL was initiated as a way not only to promote American-grown products, but also to inform people about where their food comes from.

“Regarding food safety, labeling is an important tool for consumers to evaluate the quality of the products they buy,” South Dakota state Rep. Lance Russell says.

Labeling opponents, though, say the livestock industry’s cross-border, integrated system has proven to be safe, and that commingling animals is less expensive for processors and consumers.

Under current federal rules, country-of-origin labeling must include information on each step of the production process —where the animal was born, where it was raised and where it was slaughtered. So the labeling for an animal that spent its entire time in the United States would now read “Born, Raised and Slaughtered in the U.S.”

In an attempt to resolve the trade dispute between Canada, Mexico and the United States, and to also recognize the countries’ integrated livestock industries, some have proposed the use of a “produced in North America” brand.
Stateline Midwest ~ December 20141.55 MB