Senate action urged on COOL as groups comment on repeal
The Hagstrom Report
Following House passage late Thursday of a bill to repeal country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork, and chicken, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., praised the House action, but said he is still taking suggestions for a bill that can pass the Senate.
The House vote to pass the measure was 300 to 131. The breakdown of the vote was as follows: 234 Republicans voted for it, 10 against; 66 Democrats voted for it, 121 against.
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Thursday she opposes repeal, a position that could make it difficult to garner the 60 votes needed to end debate on the measure in the Senate.
“I applaud the House for its swift action to prevent retaliation from Canada and Mexico,” said Roberts. “My counterpart in the House, Chairman Mike Conaway, has done an incredible job leading a bipartisan and decisive charge to protect American agriculture.
“I am continuing to take suggestions from my colleagues in the Senate for alternatives that meet our trade obligations,” he continued. “However, almost a month has passed since the WTO ruling was announced, and repeal remains the surest way to protect the American economy from retaliatory tariffs.”
Roberts concluded, “We can sit here and let this happen. Or we can move. Let’s get a move on.”
Roberts noted that on May 18, the World Trade Organization issued its fourth ruling that COOL discriminates against Canadian and Mexican producers who have found that U.S. slaughter plants restrict their purchase of animals from those countries because they must segregate them during slaughter in order to comply with the labeling rules.
Canada and Mexico have said they will ask the WTO for authority to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products, but that process could take months since the WTO must rule on the level of damages and retaliation that is appropriate.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said late Thursday, “Rushing a COOL repeal bill through the House is not the way to address the potential retaliation stemming from the WTO ruling. There are several steps that need to happen, including determining the actual economic harm caused by COOL, before retaliation could take place.
“Canada’s claims are unfounded, as studies show little if any economic harm from COOL,” he continued. “We do need to address this issue, and I look forward to working with my House and Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a reasonable solution that works for both farmers and consumers.”
The North American Meat Institute, which represents slaughterhouses, said the House action was a critical first step.
NAMI President and CEO Barry Carpenter said in a news release, “Everyone knows this is not about food safety. It’s an issue of marketing, and that should be decided in the marketplace. We hope the Senate will move quickly to vote for repeal so the president can sign the bill and put this failed experiment behind us.”
The National Pork Producers Council late Thursday urged the Senate to take up legislation to repeal the program.
“We’re pleased that the House voted to repeal the meat labeling requirements of COOL,” said NPPC President Ron Prestage, a veterinarian and pork producer from Camden, S.C. “We need the Senate to do the same, and we need that to happen now; we must avoid trade retaliation from our No. 1 and No. 3 export markets.”
The American Soybean Association, whose members supply feed to the livestock industry, said that “repealing COOL is the only sensible thing to do.”
Mexico is the United States’ top export customer for U.S. meat products, and Canada is our third largest customer, ASA said.
Wenonah Hunter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said, “For the first time in history, the House of Representatives has caved into threats from the World Trade Organization and repealed a U.S. law before the trade challenge to the law was even completed. This craven capitulation to meatpacker interests will embolden other countries to bring absurd claims to foreign trade tribunals as a way to get Congress to wipe out U.S. laws and regulations.
“The House used the excuse of the WTO dispute to gut COOL and serve the interests of the meatpackers who don’t want consumers to know what they are eating. The bill passed today in the House even repealed WTO-legal labels on ground beef and labels on chicken that were not challenged at all in the WTO case brought by Canada and Mexico,” Hunter added.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said he has “faith that calmer heads in the Senate will prevail and allow for discussion about an alternative proposal for moving forward.”
Johnson thanked Peterson and the following House members “who stood strong” in opposing repeal: Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; Jim McGovern, D-Mass.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio; Rick Nolan, D-Minn.; Thomas Massie, R-Ky.; Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; and Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.