USDA Issues Final Rule to Amend Labeling Provisions Under Country of Origin Labeling

VAHS|Cody Creelman|May 23/2013

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a final rule concerning the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities covered under the Country of Origin Labeling requirement. The USDA will publish the final rule on May 24, 2013 with the Federal Register.

Under the final rule, modification of the labeling requirements will require that origin designations be applied to muscle cut commodities including origin designations about where each of the productions steps (i.e. born, raised, slaughtered) occurred and also removes the allowance for the commingling of muscle cuts.

This rule has been anticipated since June 2012, when a World Trade Organization (WTO) arbitrator set a deadline of May 23, 2013, for the United States to comply with the WTO findings. Specifically, outlining that COOL requirements treat imported livestock less favorably than like U.S. livestock  (particularly in the labeling of beef and pork muscle cuts), and (2) COOL does not meet its objective to provide complete information to consumers on the origin of meat products.

Mexico’s Agriculture Minister Enrique Martinez said on Tuesday that The United States is not respecting a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling on meat labeling, saying it was hurting local industry. “We can’t understand why once the very WTO … issues a ruling, the government of the United States does not respect it,” Martinez said. “We have talked with beef producers in the United States and Canada, and totally agree this is an arbitrary decision and means discrimination against Mexican beef, which we will never agree with and as a government will defend against.”

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

Opponents of the COOL rule have said it will increase production costs and make processing more difficult. USDA estimates the cost of the rule will range from $53.1 million to $192.1 million. The costs, they affirmed, will be absorbed primarily by packers, processors and retailers of muscle cut commodities. In the final rule’s cost analysis, USDA estimated costs for the loss of commingling flexibility at the packer/processor level are $7.16 per head for cattle.

It could take several months for the WTO to review the new rule and make a new decision on the latest COOL rule change.