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USDA Kowtows to Canada's Threats, Denies U.S. Citizens Truthful Information About the Origins of Their Food

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On Sept. 30, 2008, USDA closed the public comment period for its interim final rule on Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Perishable Agriculture Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng, and Macadamia Nuts (Interim Final COOL Rule). Although USDA was supposed to weigh the public interest based on the comments submitted to the agency that included the opinions of 11,796 consumers and others who participated in the public rule-making process as the basis for writing its Final COOL Rule, the agency, instead, capitulated to Canada's threat of retaliation against COOL at the Geneva-based WTO.

In a Jan. 7, 2009, exchange of letters between Canada's Ambassador to the WTO John Gero and the U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Peter F. Allgeier, the U.S. proposed to accommodate Canada's requested changes in the agency's Final COOL Rule in return for Canada's agreement not to pursue a WTO dispute for a period of eight months.

The documents also reveal that Canada requested concessions from USDA to allow the use of a mixed-origin label on products exclusively of U.S. origin and on meat derived from livestock imported into the U.S. for immediate slaughter. This quid pro quo proposal by the U.S. was issued eight days before USDA issued its Final COOL Rule, which granted Canada the concessions it sought.

"This should be a real eye opener for U.S. citizens," said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, DVM, MBA. "After more than six years of rule-making that involved the efforts of thousands of U.S. consumers and U.S. producers, USDA granted a foreign country Canada the opportunity to dictate the final contents of the Final COOL Rule, while U.S. consumers and producers were afforded no such opportunity."

In effect, USDA surrendered the public's interest in order to cater to a foreign government, and as such, the most troublesome and misleading provision contained in the agency's Interim Final Rule the ability for packers to misinform the public with multi-country labels instead of 'Product of USA' labels for those items produced exclusively in the U.S. has now been entrenched in the Final COOL Rule.

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R-CALF USA, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on domestic and international trade and marketing issues. R-CALF USA, a national, non-profit organization, is dedicated (more...)
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