By John R. Block
As a farmer, we understand that if you have something that doesn’t work, you fix it. It will just cost you money if you ignore the problem. Somehow, the federal government doesn’t seem to understand that common sense fact.
The Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law was first passed in 2002. Canada and Mexico have been challenging the law now for 13 years. The World Trade Organization (WTO) just this week ruled it to be a violation of U.S. international trade obligations. We are a member of the WTO and therefore should live within the rules. That is our obligation, and we expect other countries to do the same.
This week, for the third time, the WTO ruled against us. That ruling gives Canada and Mexico the legal right to retaliate. Canada already has a list of proposed restrictions, which will result in a dramatic cut in our exports to Canada and Mexico. That is serious. Canada and Mexico are our number 1 and 2 export markets. Besides, they are our closest neighbors.
Senator Pat Roberts (KS) had this to say: “If Congress doesn’t act swiftly, retaliation will wreak havoc on the U.S. economy.” I think we should be aware that if we don’t fix this law, it will cost us millions of dollars in ag exports as well as other exports.
The law today requires that meat from a calf born in Canada and shipped to the U.S. bare a label that reads “Born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in U.S.” Just imagine the cost and confusion that can cause. What about the Montana farmer who imports Canadian calves and mixes his own U.S. calves with the Canadian calves? By law, he would have to keep track of them and market them separately. The U.S. processing plant would then have to process them separately. That would be the only way to ensure the Canadian label was on the Canadian steak.
Consumers say they have the right to know where that animal has been. Why? It isn’t worth the hassle. USDA just released new study results that point out the COOL labeling policy costs consumers nearly 8 billion dollars over 10 years.
We don’t need to try and change COOL. We’ve tried that before. COOL isn’t cool. Just get rid of it.
John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.