COOL repeal means any meat labeling moves to FSIS

Although most of U.S. agriculture and the Canadian and Mexican governments fought hard to convince Congress to repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork, that doesn’t mean the issue goes away.

The repeal was intended to prevent retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products due to a World Trade Organization case over the issue that was won by Mexico and Canada.

But the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has long had rules on the labeling of the origin of meat, and the repeal means that any issues surrounding the labeling of beef and pork move from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to FSIS.

On Tuesday, FSIS said in a memo to inspection personnel that the agency “is developing guidance for federally inspected establishments related to geographic claims they may wish to make on beef and pork muscle cuts and ground products with the COOL regulations no longer being enforced.”

A spokesman for the North American Meat Institute said, “Our understanding is that voluntary origin labeling will be permitted for those who are interested, and USDA is just working out the instructions for proceeding.”

NAMI has also published a blog post that explains how consumers can still find out where their meat comes from.

Of particular interest is meat that comes from countries outside the United States, Mexico and Canada. Meat coming in direct to retail from other countries will be labeled as product of that country, NAMI noted.

Advocates of meat labeling and retailers have asked what USDA will do next.

The retailers have noted that they must still label lamb and chicken and that the retail industry has invested “millions” of dollars in signs and labels for beef and pork, a meat industry source said.

Industry sources said they expect FSIS to address all the issues in January. USDA’s Office of Communications did not return a request for comment.

–The Hagstrom Report