WASHINGTON – The US House of Representatives voted 300 to 131 in favor of repealing federal country of origin labeling laws in a late vote on June 10. The bill goes beyond repealing COOL requirements for muscle cuts of red meat to include poultry, ground beef and ground pork.
The vote comes after Canada and Mexico threatened to implement more than $3 billion in retaliatory tariffs against US exports. Last week, the House Committee on Agriculture voted 38 to 6 in favor of HR 239 which repealed COOL requirements for beef, pork and chicken products. Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz applauded the vote.
"Today’s vote in the US House of Representatives sends a strong bipartisan message that COOL must be repealed once and for all,” Ritz said in a statement. “The Administration and Congress know that COOL is costing thousands of American jobs and billions in economic harm to our highly integrated North American livestock industry.
“While this marks a positive step, the only way for the United States to avoid billions in retaliation by late summer is to ensure legislation repealing COOL passes the Senate and is signed by the President.”
The Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization delivered its fourth and final ruling against COOL in May. The panel found that the amended COOL measure is inconsistent with the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement “because it accords less favorable treatment to imported livestock than to like products of US origin,” the panel said in its report.
The North American Meat Institute said the House vote is an essential first step in avoiding trade penalties.
“Everyone knows this is not about food safety,” said Barry Carpenter, NAMI president and CEO. “It’s an issue of marketing, and that should be decided in the marketplace. We hope the Senate will move quickly to vote for repeal so the President can sign the bill and put this failed experiment behind us.”
Carpenter added that while COOL proponents argue that consumers are willing to pay for country of origin labels, research by Kansas State Univ. showed no change in demand for products after COOL went into effect.
The COOL Reform Coalition, which represents more than 100 companies and associations across a variety of industries, urged quick action by the US Senate to prevent retaliation by Canada and Mexico.
“The House has taken a stand to protect the US manufacturing and agricultural economies, and now the ball is the Senate’s court,” the coalition said in a statement. “If the Senate fails to quickly do the same, Mexico and Canada will be free to enact retaliation as soon as late summer, threatening tens of thousands of American jobs. It would be inconceivable for the Senate to not act and allow the US to remain in non-compliance with the WTO rules, especially as the US was instrumental in writing them.”
Proponents of COOL were disappointed but not surprised by the vote. Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA, said lawmakers “unequivocally undercut the United States’ ability” to resolve the conflict over COOL.
“We are deeply disappointed but not at all surprised that the majority of US House members, many of whom are beholden to multinational corporatists in their respective districts, have acted in direct contradiction to the best interests of United States citizens by voting to repeal COOL for beef, pork and chicken,” R-CALF said in a statement. “The House majority has effectively advanced the national interests of Canada and Mexico, and their multinational corporatist allies, at the expense of the United States’ national interest to inform its citizens as to the origins of meat offered for sale in the domestic market.”
The statement went on to say that farmers and ranchers would be competing with foreign meat imports from countries such as South America, Asia and Europe, “But consumers will not be able to tell which meat was produced where.”
R-CALF USA, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stock Growers of America, is a producer-only cattle trade association.
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, called the vote a “disappointing knee-jerk overreaction.”
“Instead of allowing members of Congress the opportunity to debate and come to a reasonable solution to deal with the WTO compliance issue, the House has instead given us a reflexive reaction to repeal a very popular labeling law that provides important information to the nation’s consumers and is strongly supported by both consumers and family farmers,” Johnson said. “The House leadership is not interested in any reasonable solutions and blocked all amendments.”
The bill to repeal COOL was passed by a voice vote. However, a roll-call vote has been called and could occur later today.