The USDA Thursday issued a final rule to modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities covered under the Country of Origin Labeling rule following complaints from Canada and Mexico that the previous labeling provisions violated World Trade Organization rules.
The final rule requires the origin designations of muscle cuts to include information about where the originating animal was born, raised, slaughtered. The rule also removes the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.
Removing the commingling provision, USDA said, means slaughterhouses will not be able to affix one label to two or more origins of meat even if the origins are processed the same day, therefore allowing labels to be more specific.
"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.
The WTO gave the USDA a May 23, 2013, deadline for compliance after an appeal and affirmation of an earlier WTO decision that ruled U.S. labeling requirements discriminated against Mexican and Canadian livestock imports and therefore violated Technical Barriers to Trade.
USDA said the final rule will be published in the May 24, 2013 Federal Register and will go into effect today.
AMS will conduct a six-month industry education and outreach program because it may not be feasible for all affected parties to achieve 100% compliance immediately. The outreach will be similar to the program that was conducted following the 2008 Interim Final Rule and the 2009 Final Rule, USDA noted.
Additionally, retailers that use pre-printed labels will be able to use the less-specific labels until they are used up, or past the six-month period as long as additional labeling is affixed to the product.
Supporters of the rule, such as the National Farmers Union, said it will provide customers with more information about the origins of food and is a "win-win situation" for all parties involved.
“NFU has been a long-time supporter of COOL and we will continue to vigorously support it. Consumers want and have the right to know where their food comes from," NFU President Roger Johnson said.
However, opponents note that the rule may have implications on trade. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association said Thursday that per previous release of tentative rule language, trading partners have already objected to provisions as amended.
"Our largest trading partners have already said that these provisions will not bring the United States into compliance with our WTO obligations and will result in increased discrimination against imported products and in turn retaliatory tariffs or other authorized trade sanctions," NCBA President Scott George said.
"As cattlemen and women, we do not oppose voluntary labeling as a marketing tool to distinguish product and add value," George added. "However, USDA is not the entity that we want marketing beef."
Opponents of the COOL rule have also 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.
To learn more about COOL visit www.ams.usda.gov/COOL.