FSIS developing ‘geographic claims’ guidance for beef, pork
December 22, 2015
The Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service will no longer enforce country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork, but it is also developing guidance for companies that may wish to make "geographic claims," according to an FSIS memo to inspection personnel issued Monday.
The FSIS memo, whose existence was first reported by Politico today, noted that on Friday, following congressional action in the omnibus appropriations bill to repeal the country-of-origin labeling program, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA would no longer enforce the COOL law for beef and pork at the retail level.
Vilsack did not say anything about FSIS developing voluntary geographic claims standards in his statement.
But the memo said, "Separately, FSIS 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."
Congress repealed COOL for beef and pork after a World Trade Organization panel found that the program resulted in discrimination against Canadian and Mexican beef and pork producers because U.S. slaughterhouses did not accept the animals or paid discounted prices. The WTO said Canada and Mexico could impose retaliatory tariffs on more than $1 billion in U.S. goods and services if the program stayed in place.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had proposed a COOL reform bill that would have included a voluntary labeling program for beef with government supervision, but Canada and Mexico rejected that approach and Congress instead undertook a full repeal.
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It is unclear how FSIS's plan to develop geographic claims standards will fit
into the WTO case. The National Farmers Union and consumer groups have said that consumers want to know where their beef and pork come from and will continue to demand labeling.
When the COOL repeal passed last week, Canadian Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay said "We will be monitoring the marketplace closely to ensure that all incentives to discriminate against Canadian livestock are removed."
–The Hagstrom Report