Saturday, May 28, 2011

Q & A Saturday: What is COOL?

Country of Origin Labeling: What is it, and what does it mean to the beef industry?

What is it? Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL, is a food labeling law that became official in the United States in 2009. Basically, it mandates that food retailers must notify their customers of the country that certain food products, including meats, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, originated from. 

Photo Credit
So what? In theory, this sounds like a great idea, right? Consumers are able to find out where their food comes from. However, in the last two years the costs and disadvantages of COOL have come to far outweigh the benefits.

It requires American meat packers and processors to separate non-American beef, which means lower productivity and higher costs. Alternatively, they can decrease their imports. You can guess which one they were forced to choose. 

Preliminary Ruling. So the rather protectionist policy of COOL, after 2 years of dispute by Canadian and Mexican lobby groups, has come to a preliminary ruling. Last Friday, the World Trade Organization ruled that COOL is in violation of the agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. This isn't final- it will have a 30 day comment period, followed by an opportunity for the US government to appeal it, followed by a public ruling in September.

Trade. We can't officially say the battle is won yet, but in my opinion this is a great step for the North American and world cattle industry. Trade between Canada and the United States is essential for both parties. Both the NCBA (US) and CCA (Canadian) are publicly opposed to COOL for a good reason. 

Not the answer. We still believe wholeheartedly that consumers deserve to know where there beef comes from, and the beef industry works towards being more transparent every day. Unfortunately, COOL functions as more of a non-tariff trade barrier than an encouragement to traceability. You can rest easy knowing that similarly stringent quality controls exist both in Canada and the USA, and no piece of meat, fruit, or vegetable could ever reach your plate without passing hundreds of quality tests and procedures.

Photo. You can bet your beef has been through some serious testing to make it here.

Good Riddance. COOL, the beef producers of Canada will not be sad to see you go. We're looking forward to a more open market and increased trade with our number 1 partner, and they are too.

I'm expecting this to be a big issue among the NCBA YCC group in Washington DC. What do you think?

For more great articles about the COOL ruling:

Drover's Cattle Network: WTO rules against U.S. COOL program

Canadian Cattlemen: WTO seen putting chill on U.S. COOL

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