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Alberta agriculture minister goes south with case against COOL

Alberta’s Agriculture minister is heading to the U.S. to address meat industry representatives and persuade them to change their stand on mandatory Country of Origin Labelling


Calgary – Alberta’s Agriculture minister is heading to the U.S. in early November to try and convince meat packers that Mandatory Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) “makes no sense.”

Verlyn Olson, minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, is attending the North American Meat Association’s 2013 Outlook Conference in Chicago from Nov. 3-5. Olson’s aim is to put pressure on the U.S. meat industry to repeal the meat labelling law.

In a statement, Olson said, “Not only does [COOL] fail to enhance food safety, but it is hurting the livestock industry on both sides of the border by imposing millions of dollars in unnecessary costs that will undoubtedly trickle down to consumers.”

COOL requires that meat derived from animals born, reared or slaughtered outside the U.S. must be labelled to indicate the country or countries involved. COOL has resulted in extra tracking and segregation costs for Canadian hogs and cattle exported to the U.S.

In fact, Tyson Foods – one of the largest producers of meat in the world – announced it would no longer buy Canadian cattle because of the high costs associated with the labelling rules and segregating the product in the warehouse, reports the Beacon Reporter Alberta. That news is a huge blow to the Canadian cattle industry.

COOL violates free trade

In Canada, the industry believes the law violates the North American Free Trade Agreement, since it results in extra tracking and segregation costs for Canadian hogs and cattle exported to the U.S., says the CalgaryHerald.ca.

This past July, a group of meat and livestock groups in Canada and the U.S. filed a lawsuit in an effort to block the COOL legislation, and the Canadian government has appealed to the World Trade Organization (WTO). (See “Canadian livestock groups join U.S. lawsuit.”)

Canada has also released a list of U.S. products it says it will impose retaliatory tariffs on if the country does not repeal COOL.

In the CalgaryHerald.ca, John Masswohl – director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association – told the newspaper he hopes the provincial ministers will use the North American Meat Association Conference to hammer home that point.

He said U.S. packers already oppose COOL because of the extra costs it imposes, but they also need to know that their own products are among those that will be targeted if Canada moves ahead with tariffs.

Also, the timing of the conference is important because U.S. lawmakers have begun negotiations on a new farm bill. At the first negotiating session on Oct. 30, several U.S. congressmen spoke out against COOL – in part because it could lead to international sanctions, says the CalgaryHerald.ca.

Masswohl told the newspaper that it could take until the end of 2014 before Canada is given WTO authorization to impose sanctions, but the drafting of a new farm bill gives the U.S. a chance to address the issue before then.

Olson said he has already provided state agriculture secretaries with lists of specific products their local farmers stand to lose money on if sanctions are imposed, says the CalgaryHerald.ca.

In addition to pork and beef, Canada has proposed imposing retaliatory tariffs on orange juice, breads and pastries, pasta, wine, chocolate, and produce like apples, cherries, corn, and potatoes.