Proponents of mandatory Country of Origin Labeling are keeping the pressure on farm bill conferees and COOL opponents as discussion surrounding the rule as discussion heats up.
Earlier this week, Canaidan Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz led a delegation of provincial agriculture ministers and industry representatives to the annual North American Meat Association Outlook Conference in Chicago, where he reinforced Canada's opposition to COOL.
“COOL continues to hurt industries on both sides of the border, adding unnecessary red tape, delays, and costs to our integrated North American meat industry," Ritz said in a Ministry statement. "U.S. legislators have an opportunity now through the Farm Bill to end the economic harm that COOL is having throughout North America.
"Our government remains committed to pursuing all options available to resolve this dispute, including retaliation," he noted.
But the National Farmers Union, outspoken proponents of the rule, said the U.S. "does not take direction from Canada," and "threats from the Canadian Agriculture Minister are unjustified and out of line."
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed its commitment and confidence in U.S. COOL laws on multiple occasions," NFU President Roger Johnson said, noting that the U.S. Trade Representative believes changes to the COOL rule announced earlier this year bring it into WTO compliance.
“The United States has never conceded to the WTO before being directed to do so by a dispute panel. This is not the issue that should change that standing. Consumers have indicated that they want to know where their food has been produced, and we should provide that information," Johnson said.
"As a sovereign nation, we should not take direction from Canada. They do not dictate what is compliant, it is the reason we have the WTO," he concluded.
Farm bill outcome key to COOL's fate
Meanwhile, NFU's ally in the COOL fight, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, submitted a letter to U.S. House and Senate farm bill conferees on Monday countering the comments of legislators who indicated intent to legislatively repeal COOL using farm bill provisions.
The group took issue with the comments of some legislators, who said COOL will cause larger trade issues down the road.
"Unfortunately, COOL opponents consistently use the fear of possible retaliatory actions by our trading partners as a tool to influence policy-makers," Jon Wooster, USCA President said in a statement.
"Even if the U.S. is found to be non-compliant with our trade obligations regarding COOL and if Canada and/or Mexico choose to impose retaliatory sanctions, the amount of retaliation authorized is subject to arbitration at the WTO. Thus, the notion that retaliatory sanctions could happen overnight and without controls is simply not accurate," Wooster said.
The farm bill remains a key piece of the COOL puzzle, since legislative repeal could avoid any WTO action and retaliatory measures. If repeal is not authorized in the farm bill, opportunities for repeal using any other legislative vehicle are limited.