Legislators Wednesday afternoon brought forth talking points in the farm bill discussion regarding Country of Origin Labeling, foreshadowing a deeper discussion that's yet to come.
It's the latest in a back-and-forth that has divided livestock industry groups. Some say the COOL provision, which requires mandatory disclosure of an animal's origin on package labeling, is a barrier to trade and creates more cost for everyone involved. Others argue it's another tool in the consumer's decision-making toolbox.
The National Farmers Union, the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, American Sheep Industry Association and Consumer Federation of America, a coalition that supports COOL, made a last push Wednesday to support their stance on the issue via letter to 2013 Farm Bill conference committee members.
In the letter, groups expressed continued support for COOL and opposition to any legislative changes to the law, warning that "any effort to change it in the farm bill would affect our groups' support of that legislation."
"Once again packer-producer organizations and their foreign counterparts that do not have the interest of U.S. family farmers and ranchers in mind have called for legislative interference on COOL," said NFU President Roger Johnson. "Based on recent World Trade Organization rulings, there is no reason for Congress to take action on COOL," he said.
The WTO intervened last year, ruling in favor of importing countries that said the rule was a barrier to trade and gave the U.S. an unfair trade advantage. The organization required the USDA to revamp the rule by May, 2013, to make it compliant with WTO requirements.
The supporting groups said USDA followed a "carefully considered, open and transparent process as it crafted changes to the rule," which they noted provides consumers with additional information, and is consistent with U.S. law.
As for the opposing groups – including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and U.S. Meat Export Federation, which believe the rule comes at an increased cost to processors and is harmful to trade – NFU's letter says they are using "threats of Canadian retaliation as a scare tactic to encourage Congress to make changes to the popular COOL law."
"The agribusiness and packer-producer groups are merely trying to scare members of Congress into changing the law to benefit their bottom lines," the letter said, reinforcing that "there is no need for a legislative change to the law."
Read more on the COOL Rule:
COOL Opponents Plan To Appeal Injunction Decision
Court Denies COOL Opponents' Request for Injunction
Court Grants COOL Supporters' Request to Intervene in Labeling Lawsuit
Canada Issues Formal COOL Challenge
COOL Advocates Ask to Intervene in Labeling Lawsuit
COOL Rule Opponents Seek Court Injunction