Hoeven, Stabenow add COOL cosponsors, speak on floor
Five more senators have become cosponsors of the bill introduced by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork and chicken and to establish a voluntary labeling program, Stabenow said Monday.
Stabenow and Hoeven spoke on the bill on the Senate floor and a coalition of groups announced their support for it.
The senators who became cosponsors over the weekend are Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Including Hoeven and Stabenow, 13 senators are now sponsoring the bill, which is intended to address the World Trade Organization ruling that the U.S. country-of-origin labeling program for beef and pork leads to discrimination against Canadian and Mexican producers because U.S. slaughterhouses either decline to take animals from those two countries or buy fewer and pay less for them.
The House has passed a repeal-only bill and the Canadian government has said only repeal will convince it not to proceed with retaliation under WTO rules.
In speeches on the Senate floor on Monday, Hoeven and Stabenow both addressed Canada’s objection to the voluntary labeling program in the bill even though Canada has its own voluntary program.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has introduced a repeal-only bill in the Senate.
“The Product of Canada program is the voluntary food labeling program they have in Canada. So no one has to participate in this program in Canada, but if they want to, they can,” Hoeven said.
“It is just that, a voluntary food labeling program they call Product of Canada,” he said.
“What does that mean? Well, just taking from one of the Web sites where we looked it up, the ‘Product of Canada’ label can only be applied to animals that are born, raised, and slaughtered in Canada with some exceptions.
“Now, they also have labeling as far as prepacked products,” Hoeven said. “That is actually mandatory labeling. Under their mandatory labeling it says: All pre-packaged food products sold in Canada must be labeled with the name and address of the company.
“Also, it says: If manufactured outside of Canada, the label must reflect it is imported. It is mandatory to state the country of origin on some specific imported pre-packaged products such as wine and brandy, dairy products, honey, fish, and seafood products, fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs shelled, eggs processed, meat products, maple products, processed fruits and vegetables.”
Hoeven continued, “The voluntary program is the same thing Canada does. So how can our very good friends in Canada say to us: Well, it is OK for Canada to have a voluntary program and, yes, we get that you are fully repealing mandatory COOL, but, gee, even though we in Canada have a voluntary program, gosh, we don’t think you ought to have one in the United States. It does not make sense.”
Stabenow said, “If you can put the United States in a position to voluntarily stand down and not let consumers know on a voluntary basis what is a product of the United States, that is great for competition, if you are Canada or Mexico. And if they can bully us into doing that — well, shame on us if they can bully us into doing that.
“The fact of the matter is our legislation, which I believe clearly has the majority of votes in the Senate and certainly on the agriculture committee, not only meets the trade requirements of the dispute — which we lost, we know it, and we have to address it — but stands up for American consumers, American farmers, and processors who choose to use the tool of a voluntary label,” Stabenow said.
Stabenow said that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative had told her last week, ‘‘We believe both options — repealing the mandatory labeling scheme or repealing the mandatory labeling regime and replacing it with a voluntary labeling system — have the potential to constitute compliance with U.S. WTO obligations.’’
“It would be a sad day and I believe irresponsible on our part if we move back to the days prior to COOL where we were labeling meat that was born in a foreign country and spent most of its life in the foreign country but then could somehow come in and be harvested here and be called a product of the United States,” Stabenow said.
“Talk about something that is a problem — that is a problem. That is a problem. And American consumers deserve better than that. Our own processors and farmers who are competing with those in other countries deserve better than that.”
Meanwhile, R-CALF USA, Food & Water Watch and the Western Organization of Resource Councils sent Stabenow and Roberts a letter signed by 142 groups urging them to maintain mandatory country-of-origin labeling.
“Voluntary COOL labeling is no solution to the WTO dispute: Meatpackers won’t use it, consumers won’t see it, farmers and ranchers won’t benefit from it and Canada and Mexico have already bluntly rejected this so-called compromise. Voluntary COOL is indistinguishable from repealing COOL,” the letter states.
The National Farmers Union and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association have endorsed the Hoeven-Stabenow bill.
–The Hagstrom Report
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