Earlier this year a WTO panel struck down U.S. Country of Origin Labeling laws (COOL) that were intended to give American consumers crucial information about the food they eat. These laws reflected a growing demand in this country for more information about the food Americans eat, and voices from across the country are calling for an appeal of the ruling.
Most recently, a group of 19 U.S. Senators sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk asking the Obama administration to appeal the WTO ruling.
“We requested these agencies take appropriate actions to appeal the DSP’s ruling and to work to ensure that our COOL program both meets our international trade obligations while continuing to provide such information to consumers,” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said. “People want to know where the food on their tables comes from, and that makes Country of Origin Labeling a no-brainer.”
The Senators pointed out that the original legislation was not written in a discriminatory way, it was merely meant to be informative. Both products produced in the United States and those that are imported must list their origin under the law, giving consumers the option to make their own choice about the food they buy with the most complete information available.
These laws are not a major departure from other policies the United States has, or the policies of other countries. Many countries list country of origin on their food products, yet the large American consumer marketplace makes it an easy target for this kind of complaint from other countries.
Unless there is a successful appeal, the U.S. may have to discontinue its COOL regulations or face sanctions from other countries. The laws were called a “protectionist measure” that gave an unfair advantage in the U.S. marketplace to U.S. producers. The only reason it would give American producers an unfair advantage is by U.S. consumers choosing to purchase products that are made in the United States. If Americans desire easy access to the information that tells them they are supporting American farmers and that their food is more likely to be safe, no international body should be able to tell them otherwise.
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