US country-of-origin labeling provisions unjustly harm agricultural commerce and violate global trade rules, World Trade Organization judges have ruled, backing complaints made by Canada and Mexico.
The US requires food processors to identify the nations from which produce originates. Canada and Mexico said the provisions impose unfair costs on their exports, reducing their competitiveness. Judges agreed that the policies meant beef and pork from Canada and Mexico were treated less favorably than the same US products.
In a 215-page report WTO’s judges recommended that the US be told “to bring the inconsistent measures into conformity with its obligations.”
The ruling may affect as many as 70 other WTO members, including the European Union, that have mandatory labeling requirements. The US has 60 days to appeal and is considering this option, said Andrea Mead, a spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative’s office in Washington.
“We remain committed to providing consumers with accurate and relevant information with respect to the origin of meat products that they buy at the retail level,” Mead said in a statement. “In that regard we are considering all options, including appealing the panel’s decision.”
Canada and Mexico lodged their complaints in December 2008, challenging provisions of the US Food, Conservation and Energy Act that impose mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork, chicken, lamb and goat as well as some perishables sold by US retailers.
The WTO ruling confirms the rules are “discriminatory and inconsistent with US trade obligations,” said Ed Fast, Canada’s trade minister.
“The World Trade Organization clearly has recognised the integrated nature of the North American supply chain” in the livestock production and processing industry, Fast said. Meanwhile J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, has stated that the Washington-based trade group has lobbied for years to get rid of the “costly and cumbersome” law.