The controversial Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) - imposed by the US on beef and pork imports - has officially been repealed.
The US Congress arrived at the decision in light of possible retaliatory tariffs - amounting to more than US$1 billion - from Canada and Mexico. The World Trade Organization (WTO) had given its go-ahead for such measures, perceiving the labelling requirements as unfair trade practices against both nations.
"If the COOL repeal is not signed into law, Canada and Mexico are prepared to quickly exercise their retaliatory rights," said Chrystia Freeland, Canada's minister of international trade, and Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Mexico's secretary of economy, in a joint statement released from the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
Freeland expected a return of full access to the US market for Canadian beef and pork while Canada will continue to ensure that unfavourable "incentives" against the country's cattle and hogs are "quickly removed" from the marketplace.
As a result of the repeal, the USDA will no longer enforce the requirements, said Tom Vilsack, the US agriculture secretary. In addition, changes to labelling regulations will be implemented quickly, with the end of the January 2009 and May 2013 labelling requirements on muscle cuts of beef and pork, and ground beef and pork, respectively.
In the meantime, all meat products, both local and imported, will remain subjected to stringent food safety inspections, Vilsack added.
The COOL repealing is part of a US$1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill, Food Safety News reported. Its termination has attracted criticisms, particularly cattle trade association, R-CALF USA, which lamented the loss of US consumers' rights to know the origins of beef and pork products.
"The President (Barack Obama) concurred without any congressional debate, let alone public debate," the body said.
On the other hand, the end of COOL is good news to livestock and dairy producers in the country.
Philip Ellis, the president of National Cattlemen's Beef Association, declared the repealing a victorious moment for the US cattle industry. COOL, according to Ellis, was a failed programme with its costs bore by cattle producers.
"(It) has plagued our industry for many years now, costing us millions and driving us to the brink of retaliation from two of our largest trading partners," he added.
The latest Congressional decision on COOL also averted "millions of dollars" losses of US dairy exports resulting from the WTO ruling, according to Jim Mulhern, the president and CEO of the National Producers Federation.