Weekly Columns

It's Time to End COOL

Sep 02 2015

Consumers should be provided with as much information as reasonably possible to make important decisions about their family's health and nutrition.

At the same time, we must ensure that we are not violating our international obligations to U.S. trade partners, exposing innocent bystanders in American agriculture and manufacturing to harmful retaliatory actions.

Our mandatory Country of Origin labeling (COOL) rule for meat products aims to achieve the first of those goals, but unfortunately falls squarely in the camp of the latter.

Created by the 2002 Farm Bill, COOL requires retailers to provide country-of-origin labeling on fresh meat. The rule mandates different labels for meat from animals that spent a portion of their lives outside of the United States. For example, an animal that was born in the U.S., raised in Canada, and then returned to the U.S. for processing would have to be indicated as such on the label.

As a result of this rule, the Canadian and Mexican governments won a series of World Trade Organization (WTO) lawsuits against the U.S. because COOL was found to discriminate against Canadian and Mexican cattle and hogs. In May, the WTO ruled for the fourth and final time that the U.S. was in violation of its obligations.

Both Canada and Mexico may now request authorization from the WTO to retaliate against the U.S. by raising tariffs on American products. Early estimates indicate the potential economic harm to Arkansas resulting from retaliatory tariffs to be over $280 million, and the potential harm to the United States to be well in excess of $3 billion.

I stopped at Patton Cattle Farm in Wooster while on my annual agriculture tour and this issue was the centerpiece of our discussion. Those in attendance—including owner Gary Patton and Adam McClung, Executive Vice President for the Arkansas Cattleman’s Association—voiced their concerns about the potential retaliation ranchers will face if the flaws in the mandate are not addressed.

I’ve long opposed the COOL mandate because it alienates our trading partners, increases compliance costs and offers few benefits. Unless Congress acts, American businesses will be subject to billions of dollars in undeserved tariffs and these costs will be passed on to consumers. I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to find a workable solution.

The reality is we’ve lost this battle four times. If we don’t resolve this dispute, it will have a negative impact on our economy. That’s why I co-sponsored an amendment to the highway bill that would repeal the COOL mandate. While that amendment was not included in the final bill, I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee to resolve this issue. 

Arkansas farmers, manufactures and consumers can’t afford to foot the bill for bad policy. If we don’t move to act, that is exactly what will happen. The COOL mandate clearly is in violation of our trade agreements and our partners are eager to respond with tariffs. We must ensure that Arkansas’s producers are not caught in the middle of a dispute over well intended, but poorly crafted policy.