WTO rules against U.S. in meat labeling case

Fri Jun 29, 2012 5:39pm EDT
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By Tom Miles and Rod Nickel

GENEVA/WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - The World Trade Organization on Friday ruled a U.S. meat labeling program unfairly discriminated against Mexico and Canada, putting pressure on the United States to bring the scheme in line with global trade rules.

The WTO Appellate Body said the U.S. country-of-origin labeling rules, commonly known as COOL, were wrong because they gave less favorable treatment to beef and pork imported from Mexico and Canada, the countries that brought the case, than to U.S. meat.

The decision is not subject to appeal, but gives the United States time to comply and does not immediately alter the labeling rules.

U.S. officials hailed other parts of the decision, which they said affirmed the right to adopt country-of-origin labels, even though the United States will have to change how it operates the program.

Meat labels became mandatory in March 2009 after years of debate. U.S. consumer and some farm groups supported the requirement, saying consumers should have information to distinguish between U.S. and foreign products.

Big meat processors opposed the provision, which they said would unnecessarily boost costs and disrupt trade.

A WTO panel ruled in November that the labeling provision violated WTO rules on technical barriers to trade.

"Country of origin labeling is a lose-lose proposition for all players on both sides of the (border)," said Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, adding that within one year of the law, Canadian feeder cattle exports to the United States plunged by nearly half.   Continued...

World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy addresses a news conference on annual trade forecast and statistics at the WTO headquarters in Geneva April 12, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse