U.S. to appeal WTO ruling against meat labels

Sat Mar 24, 2012 5:20pm EDT
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By Doug Palmer and Rod Nickel

WASHINGTON/WINNIPEG (Reuters) - The United States said on Friday it would appeal a World Trade Organization ruling against a law requiring country-of-origin labels on all meat sold in grocery stores, a move that disappointed Canada and Mexico, both of which want the law changed.

The meat labels became mandatory in March 2009 after years of debate. U.S. consumer and mainline 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 country-of-origin labeling, or COOL, provision violated WTO rules on technical barriers to trade. The case was brought by Canada and Mexico, which have sizeable cattle and hog trade with the United States.

Andrea Mead, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office, said the November ruling confirmed the United States has the right to adopt mandatory COOL requirements to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions.

But "we were disappointed that the panel disagreed with the way that the United States designed its COOL requirements with regard to beef and pork. Accordingly, we are challenging the panel's report before the WTO Appellate Body," she said.

In their complaint, Canada and Mexico said cattle and hog shipments to the United States declined sharply after the law took effect. They said the U.S. rules were too stringent and put their livestock at a disadvantage.

"The WTO panel decision recognized the integrated nature of the North American supply chain and marked a clear win for our industry," Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a statement expressing disappointment with the U.S. appeal.   Continued...

Head Butcher Gary Singleton displays a package of squirrel meat at Budgens supermarket in north London August 6, 2010. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett