Canada seeks WTO panel in U.S. meat labeling dispute

Wed Oct 7, 2009 4:15pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada is asking the World Trade Organization to resolve a dispute with Washington over a country-of-origin labeling law that Ottawa says has slashed livestock exports to the United States.

The law requires companies to track and notify customers of the country of origin of meat and other farm products at each major stage of production, including in grocery stores.

That has created new costs for U.S. meat packers to segregate and label livestock supplies, resulting in some refusing to buy Canadian animals.

"Canadian farmers and ranchers produce top-quality food and they are facing unfair discrimination because of (the) legislation," said Canada's agriculture minister, Gerry Ritz, in a statement on Wednesday announcing the WTO request.

Canada's cattle exports dropped 31.7 percent and hog exports fell 34.6 percent through the first half of the year, according to Statistics Canada. The United States is by far Canada's biggest livestock export market.

The United States regrets Canada's decision to seek legal action, top U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

"We believe that our implementation of (the labeling law) provides information to consumers in a manner consistent with our World Trade Organization commitments," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a joint statement.

Canada objects to the labeling law on the basis that it doesn't recognize the integration of the North American livestock market, Ritz said in a later interview.   Continued...