WASHINGTON – The House Committee on Agriculture on May 20 voted 38 to 6 to approve HR. 2393, a bill that would repeal Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements for beef, pork and chicken products, while leaving intact the requirements for all other covered commodities, such as seafood and shellfish.

The bill was introduced by Rep. K. Michael Conaway of Texas, chairman of the agriculture committee, in response to the May 18 ruling by the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization that found the COOL requirements as revised in 2013 still discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock and meat products and were in violation of international trade rules. The Appellate Body’s ruling was final and opened the way for retaliatory action against American imports by Canada and Mexico.

The North American Meat Institute applauded the committee for passing the bill.

“Today’s action is the first step towards full repeal and can help the United States avoid the retaliatory tariffs promised by Canada and Mexico,” Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of NAMI, said in a statement.

“The US made a promise to live up to it WTO obligations,” Carpenter added. “We have not kept that promise and WTO panels have told us so four times.  It’s time we listen.”

COOL is a labeling law that requires retailers, such as full-line grocery stores, supermarkets, and club warehouse stores, to notify their customers with information regarding where each animal was born, raised and slaughtered. Counting the Appellate Body’s May 18 decision, WTO panels found COOL requirements to be non-compliant with US trade obligations four times.

“This bill is a targeted response that will remove uncertainty and restore stability for the United States by bringing us back into compliance,” Conaway told the panel. “We must do all we can to avoid retaliation by Canada and Mexico, and this bill accomplishes that through full repeal of labeling requirements for beef, pork and chicken. I appreciate all the support from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. We will continue working to get this to the House floor as quickly as possible to ensure our economy and a vast range of US industries and the men and women who work for them do not suffer any economic implications of retaliation.”

Rep. Jim Costa of California, the ranking member of the subcommittee on livestock and foreign relations, made the motion for the committee to report the bill favorably to the full House, saying, “With the recent decision by the WTO, we must act rapidly to avoid serious trade barriers being enacted against US agricultural products. This is a good first step toward resolving this issue that has been hanging over the industry for years.”

Only Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, ranking member on the agriculture committee, spoke in opposition to the bill.

“I’m disappointed that the WTO ruled against the United States, but I think repealing COOL is premature,” he said. “Of course no one wants to see retaliation but it’s important to point out that there are still several steps that have to occur before that would take place. Given what we have seen in the past — it took 15 months for the arbitration panel to issue a ruling in the US-Brazil cotton case — it’s unlikely the panel will rule on COOL retaliation within their 60 day window.

“I think we should take a serious look at the mandatory labeling requirements that are in place in more than 60 other countries. European Union labeling rules, for example, require indication of the country of birth, fattening and slaughter. If a cow is born, raised, and slaughtered in the same country, then that is the country of origin. Imported beef can be labeled as ‘non-EU’ if information is not available. For meats originating from countries where information about the animal may be unknown, the system allows for alternative claims of origin. There are obviously distinctions between the EU requirement and what we’ve tried to do, but I think it’s worth looking at to see if we can find a workable North American solution.”

Peterson added even if the House of Representatives voted to repeal COOL, he didn’t believe there would be enough votes in the Senate to pass repeal legislation.

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Gerry Ritz, Canadian minister of agriculture and agri-food, and Ed Fast, minister of international trade, issued the following statement on the WTO ruling.

“For the fourth time, the WTO has ruled against the US’s COOL policy, reaffirming Canada’s long-standing position that these measures are blatantly protectionist and discriminate against Canada. The decision is final, without the possibility of further appeal,” the ministers said. “The United States has used and exhausted all possible means to avoid its international obligations, damaging our highly integrated North American supply chain and hurting producers on both sides of the border. Once again, we call on the United States to cease this harmful policy and repeal COOL’s provisions against beef and pork, removing this unnecessary trade barrier.

“In light of the final ruling, and due to the fact that the United States has continued to discriminate against Canadian livestock products, Canada will be seeking authority from the WTO to use retaliatory measures on US agricultural and non-agricultural products.”