National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson argued recently in Agri-Pulse that regardless of the upcoming announcement from the World Trade Organization (WTO) on America’s popular labeling law – Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) – Congress needs to let the WTO process run its course.
“The announcement from the WTO on this lawsuit is due in just weeks, and we may win. If not, it can still be brought to arbitration. And that’s why it’s important that Congress refrain from making any changes to the popular labeling law until this process has run its course,” notes Johnson in Agri-Pulse. “To do otherwise would not only be unprecedented in U.S. history, but would also be a disservice to consumers who support COOL by a margin of 90 percent, according to decade’s worth of polling.”
Johnson notes that the food labeling movement is no longer confined to the U.S., but now includes the European Union as well. “A few years ago European politicians got an earful when their constituents learned that they were walking around with a stomachful ¾ of horsemeat. Meat from horses labeled as beef was being imported into the European Union (EU), and since strict labeling laws were not in place in one of the world’s most lucrative markets, consumers were tricked into eating something very different than they thought,” he notes.
Johnson notes the next step in the arbitration process, should the WTO rule against America’s consumers and producers in May, is that Canada and Mexico can retaliate against U.S. But the level of retaliation can be subject to arbitration, if requested by the U.S. The level of arbitration is limited to the adverse effects on Canadian and Mexican exports to the U.S.
“Proving COOL has caused economic harm is going to be no small feat for Canada, given the recent study out of Auburn University that found it was the economic collapse of 2008 – not COOL – that caused a dip in Canadian exports to the U.S.,” he notes.
Johnson notes that COOL is not only popular with consumers, who like to know where their food comes from, but producers as well. “The other side of the equation is the perspective of American producers, who strongly support COOL because they are proud of what they produce. After all, we have the most productive and efficient agriculture sector in the world, and it’s producing the safest, most nutritious food available anywhere. Why wouldn’t they want to have their name on the product?”
Johnson points out that the WTO is ultimately a political body and the global political environment is clearly shifting towards more information for consumers, not less, so in the end, pressure will mount within the WTO to recognize and accept the rights of consumers to the increased information provided by COOL.
“Until then, Congress needs to keep its hands off COOL.”