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US: NFU president responds to WTO COOL ruling

National Farmers Union (NFU) president Roger Johnson said that the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) recent ruling on Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) clearly shows US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is headed in right direction.

"This ruling demonstrates the legitimate nature of the COOL objective and finds that the current labeling rule is an improvement over the original rule, but it remains unbalanced between consumer information and production costs," said Johnson. "This decision, as it has been issued, will likely be modified on appeal and NFU strongly urges USTR to appeal the ruling."

Johnson moderated the panel discussion, and was also joined Danni Beer, president of US Cattleman's Association, Patrick Woodall, research director at Food & Water Watch, and Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, to discuss the details and implications of the WTO ruling.

On Monday, the WTO released the long-awaited, 200-plus page ruling that found the regulatory goal of COOL was WTO-compliant, and that the new 2013 labels provided better, more accurate information for consumers.

"The ruling gives USDA and USTR the opportunity to redefine the rule without the need for Congress to get involved," said Johnson. "There may well be a more clear way to define 'born, raised, slaughtered' such that it cleans up the confusion which was in the decision."

Johnson also offered the inclusion of value-added meat in the rule in order to make it WTO-compliant. "By rule, we could include a number of value-added meat products that heretofore, have not been included," said Johnson. "The WTO decision says that essentially the costs side that the producers have to bear are more than the benefit side that the consumers get... To the extent that you can increase the amount of the product that is labeled, you nullify that argument."

Johnson also discredited the economic issues raised by COOL opponents. He noted that the US was heading into a recession, the US-Canadian dollar exchange rate dramatically changed, and energy costs were starting to skyrocket. All of this caused a decrease in imports, not just across Canada and Mexico, but for all countries and commodities.

"There is a very strong conviction among all of us that the COOL statute needs to remain in place. The WTO, in all of the decisions that have been rendered on this case so far, have always said the law is ok. We have a right to do this."

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