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USDA Proposes Rule to Amend Labelling under COOL

8 March 2013, at 10:46pm

ANALYSIS — The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a proposed modification to the rules required for the labeling of muscle cut commodities covered under the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program, writes Sarah Mikesell, 5m senior editor.

Under the proposed rule, origin designations for animals slaughtered in the US would be required to specify the production steps of birth, raising, and slaughter of the animal. In addition, this proposed rule would eliminate the allowance for any commingling of muscle cut covered commodities of different origins.

The changes are designed to provide consumers with more transparency by providing specific information about muscle cut covered commodities.

“USDA expects that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the current mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with US international trade obligations,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The proposed rule would modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps (i.e., born, raised, slaughtered) occurred and would remove the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.

In June 2012, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) affirmed an earlier WTO Panel decision finding that the United States’ COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and thus were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The United States has until May 23, 2013, to come into compliance with the WTO ruling in COOL.

Notice of the proposed rule will be displayed in the March 11, 2013 Federal Register and can be viewed at http://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection. Comments must be received by April 11, 2013.

Under COOL, retailers must provide their customers with information about the origin of various food products, including fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish and meats. Mandatory COOL requirements help consumers make informed purchasing decisions about the food they buy.

COOL was passed as a part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 and amended in the 2008 Farm Bill, going into effect in 2008, with regulations being put forward in 2009.

In 2012, USDA and its state cooperators conducted more than 3,800 compliance reviews of retailers. These reviews established an estimated 98 per cent compliance rate for commodities under COOL.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) was quick to hail the proposed changes to COOL rules.

"The proposed rule changes released by OMB are an excellent response to decisions by the World Trade Organization that called for changes to our COOL implementation," said NFU President Roger Johnson. "By requiring further clarity in labels and stronger recordkeeping, the set of rules released today are a win-win for farmers, ranchers and consumers."

In February, NFU and other groups released a legal analysis that detailed the available options for successful US compliance of the WTO's ruling on COOL. The analysis concluded that an effective way of complying with the WTO decision was to provide more information and more accurate details to consumers. It would not require producers or processors to collect additional information; nor would it increase food cost to consumers as the Office of Management and Budget determined the changes are not economically significant.