Salmonella outbreak highlights need for COOL
Billings, Mont. – In the wake of a 30-state outbreak of Salmonella infections caused by tainted cucumbers imported from Mexico, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is holding a hearing today and tomorrow in Geneva, Switzerland, to decide the fate of the United States’ mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) law.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 341 people were reported ill from the Salmonella strain linked to the Mexican cucumbers since July 3, 2015. Seventy people have been hospitalized so far and two deaths have been reported. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the suspect cucumbers were grown in Baja, Mexico. Both the CDC and the FDA urge consumers not to eat their cucumbers if in doubt as to their origin.
Since 2009, the U.S. mandatory COOL law has required retailers to label fruits, vegetables, beef, pork, lamb, chicken and certain nuts with either individual labels or a placard on the bulk bin where the products are offered for sale that states in what country or countries the food was grown or produced.
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said that while U.S. food safety system at our borders failed to protect U.S. consumers from this food borne illness linked to Mexican cucumbers, U.S. consumers can nevertheless protect themselves by using mandatory COOL labels to avoid eating cucumbers from Mexico until the problem is completely resolved.
“This tainted cucumber incident provides irrefutable evidence that our mandatory COOL law provides two vital benefits: one is a food safety benefit for consumers and the other an economic benefit for producers,” said Bullard adding:
“No one can argue that COOL labels are ineffective at empowering consumers to avoid products from importing countries where tainted food has been identified but where our food safety system has failed to prevent the dissemination of the tainted food within the United States.
“Nor can anyone argue that empowering consumers to use COOL labels to selectively avoid products from one country while continuing to purchase similar products from other countries is not a huge economic benefit to farmers and ranchers who produce the product in countries not suspected of producing tainted products.”
Indeed, Bullard’s assertions are substantiated by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that found it was Congress’ intent that mandatory COOL “empower consumers to take possible country-specific differenced in safety practices into account” and that COOL can provide “economy-wide benefits to confining the market impact of a disease outbreak.”
If the WTO has its way, the food safety and economic benefits of COOL will soon disappear for beef, pork and chicken. The ongoing WTO hearing in Geneva is an arbitration process that follows the WTO’s previous ruling that U.S. COOL for beef and pork violates international trade law. The arbitration process will decide if the United States must pay Canada and Mexico a penalty for what would otherwise be the United States’ sovereign right to inform its citizens as to the origins of food imported into the United States.
“Congress is all too eager to capitulate to the WTO without regard to the tremendous benefits COOL provides U.S. consumers,” Bullard said in response to legislation introduced by U.S. Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
The Hoeven-Stabenow bill (S. 1844) would first repeal COOL for beef, pork and chicken and then provide for the establishment of a voluntary labeling scheme that would not allow for the labeling of imported product.
“The Hoeven-Stabenow bill will deprive consumers of their right to distinguish meat as to its origins and will deprive U.S. farmers and ranchers of their right to separate their products from the growing tide of imported products.
“U.S. Farmers and ranchers who raise cattle, hogs and chickens deserve to have their products distinguished in the grocery store just as U.S. cucumber farmers deserve to have their cucumbers distinguished from Mexican-grown cucumbers.
“The only way consumers and producers will continue to realize the benefits of COOL is for Congress to stand up and defend our mandatory COOL law,” Bullard concluded.
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