The World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement panel ruled in November last year that the United States had not properly applied the mandating country-of-origin (mCOOL) regulations regarding beef and pork imports from Canada and Mexico.  Reacting to this decision, the United States has now filed an appeal against this ruling.

The WTO’s Appellate body will consider the U.S. claims and is normally required to issue a ruling within 90 days.  The dispute centers on the 2008 Farm Bill and the implementing rules imposing mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork, lamb, chicken, goat meat, and certain perishable commodities sold at retail outlets in the United States.  The statute sets out four categories of country of origin for muscle cuts of meat–exclusively U.S. origin; multiple countries of origin; animals imported for immediate slaughter; and exclusively foreign origin. For ground beef or pork, the statute requires the label to list “all of the countries of origin” of the meat.

Canada and Mexico said they were not challenging mandatory country-of-origin labeling, as such, but rather the fact that mCOOL requirements, as applied internally, act as a protectionist barrier and unfairly distorts competition between imported and domestic cattle and pork.  The measure “creates an incentive in favor of processing exclusively domestic livestock and a disincentive against handling imported livestock,” the panel declared. In addition, the measure “de facto discriminates against imported livestock by according less favorable treatment to Canadian cattle and hogs, and to Mexican cattle, especially Mexican feeder cattle, than to like domestic livestock.”

The panel also agreed with Canada and Mexico that mCOOL requirements violated WTO rules because it does not fulfill the stated U.S. objective of providing consumer information on origin with respect to meat products.  The information on the labels as prescribed by the measure “does not ensure meaningful information for consumers, except origin information,” the panel said. In addition, the “description of origin for (multiple countries or origin/imported for immediate slaughter labels) is confusing in terms of the meaning of multiple country names listed in these labels,” the panel explained.

Reacting to the appeal action, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said, “NPPC is urging the Obama administration and Congress to resolve the issue to avoid damaging retaliation from Canada and Mexico against U.S. pork products.”  The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association added, “We are very disappointed in this decision.  An appeal is the wrong answer and a waste of valuable resources.  This appeal will do nothing but escalate tension with our valuable trade partners and will prolong an issue that could be resolved quickly.”