July 28, 2017  


Most Americans still support COOL law invalidated by WTO - new poll



A large majority of Americans continue to strongly support mandatory country of origin labelling for fresh meat and strongly favor requiring meat to be labeled with even more specific information about where the animals were born, raised and processed.


This was one of the findings of a survey commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and whose results were released on Monday, July 24. The telephone survey was undertaken by ORC International on July 20-23, 2017, using a split sample of landlines and cell phones. Its margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.


The results showed that 89% of a representative sample of 1,000 adult Americans favored, either strongly or somewhat, requiring food sellers to indicate on the package label the country of origin of fresh meat they sell. This high level of support for country of origin labeling is similar to the results of previous polling on the issue, according to the CFA.


Eighty-eight percent (88%) of adults favored, either strongly or somewhat, requiring food sellers to indicate on the package label the country or countries in which animals were born, raised and processed. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) changed its country of origin regulations to provide consumers with this additional information in response to a World Trade Organisation (WTO) challenge by Canada and Mexico.


Even with the change, a WTO tribunal ruled that the regulation was an unlawful trade barrier. Congressional leaders cited the ruling in support of a law that repealed the regulations, which passed at the end of 2015.


Demonstration of strong support


"These results demonstrate that US consumers continue to strongly support country of origin labeling", said Thomas Gremillion, director of the CFA Food Policy Institute.


"We urge the administration to include country-of-origin labelling in its renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Canada and Mexico should agree to withdraw their lawsuit in the WTO and allow USDA to once again require food sellers to provide this information", he added.


In 2002 Congress required mandatory country-of-origin labels (COOL) for meats and poultry, as well as vegetables, fruits and some nuts. The requirements were expanded in 2008 and implemented by the USDA. Soon after the law went into effect, Canada and Mexico challenged the COOL law at the WTO, alleging it was a barrier to trade. 


The WTO upheld the rights of the US to require country of origin labeling, but found that the COOL labels for meat cuts imposed a cost to imported livestock and meat that exceeded the consumer benefit because of the limited and confusing information on COOL labels.


The USDA issued new regulations to try to comply with the WTO ruling. Once again, the WTO ruled that they were unlawful trade barriers. While the WTO has continued to maintain that the US may require country of origin labeling, it has refused to specify what sort of COOL regulation would satisfy its legal standards.