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Senate bill seeks voluntary country of origin labeling

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow has proposed a bill that would makecountry of origin labeling (COOL) for pork and beef voluntary instead of mandatory.

The legislation proposed by the Michigan Democrat and member of the Senate agriculture committee, is seen as an alternative to repealing COOL. The U.S. House of Representatives on June 10 approved a bill that if signed into law, would repeal U.S. COOL laws.

Congress is trying to reach a solution to repealing the current COOL laws after the World Trade Organization (WTO) on May 18 ruled the laws unfair, siding with Mexico and Canada, who have challenged the laws saying they discriminate against Canadian and Mexican cattle and hogs.

Canada and Mexico have both filed with the WTO to seek more than $3 billion in retaliation. The U.S. subsequently asked the WTO for arbitration over the amount of damages Canada and Mexico claims have been caused by COOL.

According to anAgri-Pulse report, Stabenow stated: “COOL serves an important role for consumers and industry. However, the WTO has been clear that we must find a solution that is consistent with our international trade obligations. This proposal offers a viable alternative and I look forward to discussing it at our hearing and with my colleagues in the Senate as we work to come to agreement on a bipartisan solution.”

Stabenow is a former Senate agriculture committee chairperson. Her successor as committee chair, Sen. Pat Roberts, has called for the Senate to follow the House’s lead and repeal the COOL laws.

K. Michael Conaway, chairman of the House agriculture committee, stated that he thinks Stabenow’s bill is a bad idea.

“Any conversation about a voluntary program must be preceded by a full repeal of COOL, as we have an obligation to our trading partners to come into compliance,” Conaway said. “ These labeling requirements are costly for producers, burdensome for the entire supply chain, and provide no quantifiable benefits for consumers. By leaving in place a host of federally mandated requirements, Sen. Stabenow’s bill still creates unnecessary compliance costs and prolongs this failed experiment. After four World Trade Organization rulings against the U.S. for mandatory COOL, it is time to abandon this program and ensure certainty in the marketplace.”

The Senate is scheduled to hold a hearing on COOL on June 25.