Final Rule On Meat Labelling Law Issued

US - A final rule implementing the Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labelling (M-COOL) law provides flexibility for the US pork industry but remains a costly and potentially cumbersome statute, said the National Pork Producers Council. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued this final rule yesterday. The rule becomes effective on 16 March, 2009, 60 days after the date of publication.
calendar icon 13 January 2009
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The law requires muscle cuts of pork, beef, lamb and goat meat to be labeled in one of four categories:

  • Category A: Pork from hogs “born, raised and slaughtered” in the US must be labeled a product of the US.
  • Category B: Pork from hogs born in Canada but raised and slaughtered in the United States, such as Canadian feeder pigs, must be labeled a product of the US and Canada. Pork from a group of US-born and Canadian-born hogs that are raised and slaughtered in the US also may be labeled in Category B.
  • Category C: Pork from hogs born and raised in Canada but brought in for immediate slaughter in the US must be labeled a product of Canada and the US. The final rule allows pork that falls into Category B to be labeled under Category C.
  • Category D: Pork from hogs born, raised and slaughter in Canada and imported into the US must be labeled a product of Canada.

Animals in the United States on or before 15 July, 2008, are considered “of US origin.” Ground meat products can be labeled with a list of countries or possible countries from which they were derived.

The law also allows producers to use normal business records to verify their hogs’ origin.

Despite the flexibility provided in the implementing regulation, the M-COOL law has been estimated to cost the livestock industry $2.5 billion initially and nearly $212 million annually over the next 10 years. Already there is anecdotal evidence that pork producers have incurred higher transportation costs because some packing plants will process only US-origin pigs, and packers are directing Canadian-born pigs to other plants.

Canadian Gov't Responds

"The bottom line is that the changes to the final rule will help to keep livestock trade moving throughout the integrated North American market and will benefit producers, consumers and processors."
Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

The Government of Canada recognizes provisions in the final rule that will help to level the playing field for Canadian producers and will strengthen the integrated North American livestock industry.

"I am pleased that key issues raised by Canada are addressed in these measures," said the Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. "Together with the provinces and industry, we will continue to assess the trade and market impact of this legislation. We have built a strong and durable trade relationship over the years with the United States and we must more than ever aggressively pursue this already robust relationship during these difficult economic times."

"This government always stands up for Canadian livestock producers and that hard work is paying off as we protect and expand opportunities for our producers within the integrated North American beef industry," said the Honourable Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. "These final regulations will help to address the concerns we’ve consistently raised with our American counterparts, and we will continue to work with the US to prevent any unfair harm to our industry."

"The bottom line is that the changes to the final rule will help to keep livestock trade moving throughout the integrated North American market and will benefit producers, consumers and processors," added Minister Day.

The final regulations will allow for more flexibility on labelling requirements in the US for meat from animals of American and Canadian origin that are brought together during a production run. Canada has repeatedly raised concerns that COOL could impose unfair costs, especially on Canadian livestock producers, by requiring the segregation of Canadian animals.

Most recently, Canada and the US held formal consultations under the World Trade Organization regarding the adverse impact of the interim regulatory measures on Canadian livestock and meat producers. Canada will continue to monitor the situation and defend Canadian producers through discussions and representations to the US at all levels.

The US and Canada are each other’s largest agricultural trading partners. In 2007, bilateral agricultural trade totalled $32.3 billion.

Canadian Pork Producers Show Cautious Optimism

Although the CPC (Canadian Pork Council) remains opposed to the mandatory initiative, seeing it as a barrier to trade, cautiously optimistic about the final rule and is hopeful that will alleviate the market uncertainty allowing the market to stabilize.

"There is an increasing body of market information coming from both the United States and Canada pointing clearly to COOL having seriously disrupted trade in live swine between Canada and the US and we continue to have concerns that market discrimination against imports will persist," stated Jurgen Preugchas, President of the Canadian Pork Council.

The Canadian pork industry enjoys a solid world-wide reputation for excellent quality and high animal health status. Canadian producers are alarmed that the COOL requirements are destroying a trade relationship that mutually benefits both countries, in particular the US export market for Canadian live swine.

"Publication of the final rule may alleviate some of the market uncertainty that currently disrupts our US-Canada trade relationship" added Mr Preugchas. "However, we will continue to assess the impact of the COOL on Canadian producers and will need an evaluation period to determine the impact of these changes in the marketplace."

NFU Expresses Disappointment

National Farmers Union has been a long-time proponent of the labeling law and NFU President Tom Buis expressed disappointment at USDA's action.

“Despite the strong support from Congress, and demands from consumers and producers alike, USDA has chosen to implement COOL in a manner that does not meet Congress’ clear intent, leaving loopholes in place for those willing to circumvent the law.

“The final rule still contains a loophole that would allow meat packers to use a multiple countries, or NAFTA label, rather than labeling US products as products of the United States. This is misleading to consumers. The intent was to provide country of origin labeling, not trade agreement origin of labeling. If a product is exclusively born, raised and processed in the United States it should be labeled as such.

Mr Buis said USDA takes great liberty with the definition of ‘processed products,’ effectively leaving several food products without labels and denying consumers the knowledge of their food’s country of origin.

“The department recognizes acceptance of producer affidavits to verify compliance, which I am pleased to see," said Mr Buis.

“COOL was effective 30 September, 2008 and NFU had urged the department to withhold final judgment until COOL’s six month trial period had concluded. We will continue to monitor the implementation of COOL and if not implemented properly will not hesitate to go to Congress for changes until COOL is implemented in the best interest of consumers, farmers and ranchers.

“COOL is a vital marketing tool and it is imperative it be implemented properly,” added Mr Buis.

Further Reading

- You can view the final rule and additional information by clicking here.
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