Ritz dismisses US voluntary COOL plan

by Erica Shaffer
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Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said a proposed voluntary US COOL program will guarantee retaliatory tariffs.

OTTAWA, Ontario –Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Canada would retaliate should the United States try to pass a voluntary country of origin labeling law.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) crafted a bill that repeals mandatory COOL and replaces it with a voluntary system. Lawmakers discussed the bill during a July 23 news conference.

“So the repeal of COOL, similar to what the House did addresses the WTO action,” Hoeven said. “And then the voluntary program maintains the Grade A label,” which means born, raised and slaughtered in the United States. The voluntary labels would apply to beef, pork and chicken.

“And if you look, that’s exactly what Canada does,” Hoeven added. “Canada has a voluntary program, and so we’re doing the same thing as Canada.”

Ritz strongly disagreed.

“Senators Hoeven and Stabenow’s proposal in no way reflects Canada’s voluntary labeling regime — any suggestion of this is blatantly false,” Ritz said in a statement. “‎A voluntary regime as they propose does not require legislation.

“Should the United States move forward with their short-sighted proposal, Canada will have no choice but to impose billions of dollars of retaliatory tariffs on United States exports.”

Ritz went on to say that the proposed measure would “continue to harm farmers, ranchers, packers, retailers and consumers,” and guarantee Canadian retaliation.

“The only way for the United States to avoid retaliation is for the United States Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives and Senator Roberts and put forward legislation that repeals COOL once and for all,” Ritz concluded. 

US Sen. Chuck Grassley
US Sen. Chuck Grassley

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a co-sponsor of the bill, fired back during a recent conference call with agriculture media. Grassley was part of crafting COOL legislation in the 1990s. He said he has always supported COOL for meat because consumers have a right to know the source of their food.

“It seems to me they are intellectually dishonest when we’re doing exactly what they’re doing,” Grassley said. “Why wouldn’t that satisfy them?”

And, during the July 23 news conference Grassley said “There’s no way that Canada can dispute a voluntary labeling program when they have the same basic program. In the past, Canada has even proposed to the United States that a voluntary option could be a solution.”

Lawmakers who support a voluntary program have said legislation is necessary because the bill establishes a definition for meat products made in the US and maintains the integrity of the Grade A label.

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