More than eight months after losing a case at the World Trade Organization, the United States has finally begun changing its protectionist regulations for mandatory country-of-origin labels (COOL) on meat. Unfortunately, while the Obama administration claims that it is implementing the WTO’s recommendations, it is actually making the regulations more protectionist.
Congressional intervention now seems the only avenue left to defend consumer interests from the Big Cattle lobby and restore what’s left of America’s reputation in the global trading system.
Here is the back-story: Regulations now require meat from cattle or hogs slaughtered in the United States to carry labels with the country or countries involved in production. If the animal was born and raised in the United States, for example, the meat must be labeled “Product of the United States.” If the animal was born or raised outside the United States and then brought here for slaughter, the meat must carry a label revealing this and listing the countries.
If consumer demand for origin information were sufficient to justify the cost of those labels, they would not need to be mandated by law. The fact that retailers don’t voluntarily provide this information shows that consumers are not willing to pay a high enough premium to justify the expense. And those costs are significant. Compliance with the current COOL regulations has been estimated to cost the beef industry more than $1.2 billion.