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.
This occurred despite the fact that 31 U.S. Senators, Democrats and Republicans alike who represent millions of U.S. citizens, wrote a strong letter to USDA in September 2008 to reinforce that: "It is the intent of Congress that meat product that is exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the United States will have its own label, such as "Product of the U.S.," so that consumers could easily determine U.S. product apart from product that is from other countries..." These same individuals also wrote that USDA's Interim Final Rule, which did allow the mislabeling of exclusive U.S. product, has the possibility of "defying Congressional intent and the agreement between producers and the packing industry."
"We are now witness to the unconscionable actions of a federal agency that has ignored its duty to defend our constitutionally passed COOL law, ignored the public interest and the will of Congress, and has, instead, kowtowed to the special interests of the Canadian government, all to the detriment of U.S. citizens," said Thornsberry. "This is well beyond being simply a serious matter because USDA's actions have resulted in an erosion of our individual rights and our national sovereignty.
"This must be stopped, he concluded. "R-CALF USA is calling upon the new Agriculture Secretary to immediately reverse the inappropriate concessions accorded to Canada prior to his taking office and to promulgate a new Final COOL Rule that conforms to Congress' clear intent: all meat produced exclusively from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. must bear the exclusive USA label, and nothing more."
Click below to view the letters.
Letter from U.S. Ambassador to Canadian Ambassador
Response letter from Canadian Ambassador to U.S. Ambassador
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALFUSA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALFUSA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALFUSA has dozens of affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.