Still Time to Fix COOL?

The House and Senate reacted very differently Tuesday to Monday’s announcement by the World Trade Organization that its appellate body had issued a final ruling against the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Law.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), a longtime supporter of mandatory country of origin labeling of meats, told reporters that he had not yet spoken to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) about making changes to the law to bring it in compliance with trade rules. Grassley said that even though Canada and Mexico are expected to retaliate against U.S. exports to those countries, the U.S. can ask WTO for arbitration over the penalties, a process that takes up to 60 days.

“It’s very likely Congress will have all summer to develop a COOL fix,” Grassley said. Representatives of the Canadian government and the meat-packing industry have told Grassley that having a generic North American label of origin would fix the problems cited by the WTO, he said.

“At a minimum, it’s likely we will end up with a voluntary cool program,” Grassley said.

Grassley didn’t rule out eventually voting for repeal of COOL if he can’t get support for a broader label or voluntary programs.

“There’s a bloc of upper Midwest senators who support COOL. However, they have to have the same reality that I have about what’s the alternative,” he said. Last year, before the November election, a bipartisan group of 32 senators signed a letter opposing an effort to weaken COOL before a final WTO decision was handed down.

If supporters of COOL in the Senate can’t get enough votes for alternative approaches, “I think it’s only realistic that when you support the rules of international trade, and you want other countries to respect them, then I have to respect them,” Grassley said.

In the House, where COOL seems to have less support, Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway and 61 cosponsors Tuesday introduced a bill to repeal mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements for beef, pork, and chicken products (H.R. 2393). The cosponsors include nearly all of the Ag Committee’s 26 Republicans and nearly half of its 19 Democrats. The ranking Democrat on the Committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, said Monday that he opposes repealing COOL.

Conaway held a press conference Tuesday to urge speedy passage of his repeal bill.

“In light of the WTO’s decision and the certainty that we face significant retaliation by Canada and Mexico, we cannot afford to delay action," Conaway said. “That’s why I was joined by 61 of my colleagues in introducing H.R. 2393, a bill to repeal mandatory COOL for beef, pork, and chicken. This bill is a targeted response that will remove uncertainty, provide stability, and bring us back into compliance.  I appreciate the support of so many colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we work quickly to ensure our economy and a broad spectrum of U.S. industries do not suffer the economic impacts of retaliation.”

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