U.S. label law blocking Canada livestock

Wed Apr 15, 2009 2:18pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada's farmers have seen a dramatic decrease in the numbers of hogs and cattle sold into the United States since American mandatory food labeling rules took effect, amplifying calls for Canada to launch a WTO complaint against the U.S.

Hog farmers have shipped 41 per cent or 1.2 million fewer hogs to the U.S. this year through March 28, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

U.S. cattle imports from Canada have dropped by one-quarter during the same period, amounting to about 120,000 fewer head of cattle crossing the border.

"It's been immediate and it's been severe," said Juergen Preugschas, president of the Canadian Pork Council and a hog farmer in the western province of Alberta.

Interim mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rules came into effect September 30. Canada filed a WTO complaint against what it termed protectionist rules, but in January suspended it after the U.S. revised the final version.

The Canadian industry renewed its concerns after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wrote to meat packers in February suggesting he may toughen the law if they don't voluntarily adopt higher standards, such as labeling in which country each stage of production took place. The final version of the law took effect March 16.

Canada traditionally exports C$4 billion (US$3.3 billion) a year of livestock to the U.S.

U.S. packers are now wary of importing other countries' meat because of the cost of segregating animals and for fear that retailers will be less likely to buy meat not raised in the U.S., said Kevin Grier, senior analyst at the George Morris Center in Guelph, Ontario.   Continued...