American Meat Institute Tells U.S. Trade Representative that Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling Violates International Trade ObligationsFriday, January 8, 2010
The comments were provided in response
to a December 4, 2009, Federal Register
In comments, AMI Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark Dopp said that equitable enforcement of international trade rules is a high priority for everyone and that all too often, market access for U.S. meat products has been threatened or cut off with little or no legitimate justification.
“American challenges to these actions have
been based upon the rights provided under
international trade agreements. These
challenges will continue, as demonstrated by a
recent limitation to an important market for
beef. Critical to the
COOL is inconsistent with trade agreements because of its discriminatory effect on imported meat and imported live animals. The U.S. must ensure that the products of other countries “imported into the territory of [the United States]…be accorded treatment no less favorable than that accorded to like products of [U.S.] origin in respect of all laws…affecting their internal sale.”
According to Dopp, COOL affects the internal
sale of meat derived from foreign animals in
“The result is that COOL is de facto discrimination against foreign products, a result even contemplated by sponsors of the legislation who declared that it would be ‘helpful to a lot of American agricultural producers’ and force companies to rely ‘on our independent producers here in this country,’” according to Dopp.
COOL also is not consistent
with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to
Trade (TBT). The TBT Agreement
specifically governs any technical regulation
which, like COOL, “deal[s] exclusively
with…marking or labeling requirements as they
apply to a product.” The TBT Agreement requires
First, the Codex General Standard for the Labeling of Prepackaged Foods provides that “when a food undergoes processing in a second country which changes its nature, the country in which the processing is performed shall be considered to be the country of origin for the purposes of labeling.” COOL does not meet this international standard, Dopp said. In addition, the Codex General Standard provides that “the country of origin of the food shall be declared if its omission would mislead or deceive the consumer.” The U.S. Government, however, has never claimed that customers were misled or deceived.
Second, the WTO Rules of Origin Agreement
stipulates that the final harmonization work
program must determine a country of origin as
“the country where the last substantial
transformation has been carried out.”
COOL, however, denies
COOL also violates the TBT agreement by creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade. Its non-trade objectives are minimal, and COOL does not have as an objective protecting “human health or safety, animal or plant life or health, or the environment.”
“Indeed, the U.S. Government has repeatedly stated that COOL ‘is not a food safety or animal health measure. Likewise, COOL is not a ‘national security requirement’ nor does COOL have as its purpose preventing ‘deceptive practices.’ Neither sponsors of the legislation nor U.S. Government agencies have made such a claim,” Dopp said.
The stated objective of COOL is to provide ‘consumer information,’ but AMS found that the “expected benefits from implementation of this rule are difficult to quantify. In fact, the agency concluded that that the economic benefits will be small and will accrue mainly to those consumers who desire country of origin information and that all available evidence shows that “consumers do not have a strong preference for country of origin labeling.”
“In a number of cases meat packers have chosen either to cease buying imported livestock – an extreme trade restriction – or have confined the processing of imported livestock to limited dates and times. These practices, in turn, have significantly restricted trade,” Dopp wrote.
In addition, to be consistent with GATT,
COOL must be administered uniformly and
reasonably. But according to Dopp,
“COOL applies only to “covered commodities”
and not to a host of products such as turkey,
processed foods, etc. and, therefore, is
not consistent,” he said.
Reasonableness requires that the
administration of laws be “proportionate” and
“appropriate” and, comparing the significant
costs imposed on the
To read the complete comments,