Thursday, February 14, 2013

Contentious meat-labeling rule moves to White House

Facing the prospect of damaging trade sanctions, the Obama administration is hustling to bring U.S. meat-labeling rules into compliance with international standards. But the American meat and cattle industry is sharply divided about the path forward.  The White House’s Office of Management and Budget is now weighing proposed regulations designed to resolve last year’s finding by the World Trade Organization (WTO) that U.S. rules give American meat products an unfair advantage over those from Canada and Mexico. Inaction by the federal government would clear the way for those nations — the United States’s top two meat trading partners — to impose retaliatory tariffs that would inflict pain on American meat producers and packers. “This would be an incredible hit to our industry,” said Colin Woodall, vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA.)  At issue are federal country-of-origin labeling rules that became mandatory in the United States in 2009, after years of debate. Known as COOL, the program is meant to give consumers more information about the food they eat by requiring labels on packaging that show where certain cuts of meat came from. The NCBA would just as soon do away with the labels, and said Congress — not the administration — should act to resolve the issue. Proponents of the COOL policy — farm and cattle industry groups, along with consumer watchdogs — argue the WTO ruling does not altogether ban labeling. Rather, they contend that the adjustments to the current regulation would remedy the issue, while allowing COOL to continue...more

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