WASHINGTON – Leave it to government to make a bad regulation worse. That was the sentiment expressed by meat and poultry industry groups after the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service released its proposed changes to US country of origin labeling regulations.
Among the proposed changes, origin designations would include information about where each production step occurred and would remove the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts. The rule also would amend the definition for "retailer". Industry groups said such regulations would be burdensome to industry and unacceptable to trading partners.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said no regulatory fix can be put in place to bring the current COOL rule into compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations or that will satisfy Mexico and Canada, the US’s top trading partners.
“The proposed amendments will only further hinder our trading relationships with our partners, raise the cost of beef for consumers and result in retaliatory tariffs being placed on our export products,” said Scott George, NCBA president. “The requirement that all products sold at retail be labeled with information noting the birth, raising and slaughter will place additional recordkeeping burdens on processors and retailers, contrary to the administration’s assertion. Moreover, this combined with the elimination of the ability to comingle muscle cuts, will only further add to the costs of processing non-US born, raised and slaughtered products.”
AMS took the action after the US lost an appeal of a World Trade Organization challenge brought by Canada and Mexico in 2012. The WTO Appellate Body said US mandatory COOL regulations violated trade agreements by giving less favorable treatment to Canadian cattle and hogs compared to domestic livestock.
“The proposed rule is even more onerous, disruptive and expensive than the current regulation implemented in 2009,” said J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute. “Complying with this proposal — should it become mandatory — will create more excessive costs that will be passed onto consumers.
“An absurd example of one of the proposed changes is this: a plant or grocery retailer that currently labels its product, “Product of the US” would now have to change the labels on its packages to read, “Born, raised and slaughtered in the US.”
The rule will be published in the March 11 Federal Register, and there is a 30-day comment period. Comments must be received by April 11, 2013.