WASHINGTON – Several meat, poultry and food retail associations urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to delay implementation of the proposed country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule.
In a letter to Vilsack, the groups asked that implementation of COOL be delayed until the World Trade Organization determines whether the final rule brings the US into compliance with international trade laws.

"Members of our organizations will be substantially affected if the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS or the agency) promulgates a final rule that is identical or similar to the March 12 proposed rule," the letter states. "That adverse impact will be even more significant if the agency elects to implement a final rule before the parties to the World Trade Organization [WTO] case that is the genesis of this rulemaking have the opportunity to present to that body their positions as to whether the final rule brings the United States into compliance."

The US lost an appeal of a WTO 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. Proposed changes would have origin designations 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 have criticized the changes as burdensome to industry and unacceptable to trading partners.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in April that Canada would consider imposing sanctions of up to $980 million a year against the US if the US does not comply with the WTO ruling by May 23.

"When weighed against the harm that will befall the affected industry if the rule is prematurely implemented, we respectfully suggest that the prudent course is to delay the effective date of any final rule until after the WTO renders its compliance decision," the letter stated.