Congress Repeals Controversial Meat Labeling Requirements

The USDA is no longer enforcing a contentious meat labeling law after Congress backed its repeal last month.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is no longer enforcing a contentious meat labeling law after Congress backed its repeal last month.

A massive year-end spending bill included a provision to end "country of origin" labeling for beef and pork.

The labels, first implemented in the 2002 federal farm bill, required meat producers to disclose where animals were born, raised and slaughtered and banned including products from different countries in the same package.

Consumer advocates and ranchers in the northern U.S. — who compete with Canadian ranchers — backed the law, but the standards drew the ire of the meat industry, which complained about their costs.

Ultimately, however, the requirements were undone by opposition from Canada and Mexico, which challenged them before the World Trade Organization.

The WTO ruled in 2014 that COOL standards put producers in neighboring countries at a disadvantage and rejected a final appeal by U.S. trade officials last spring. Last month, the agency determined that Canada and Mexico could levy more than $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. meat producers.

"Since its inception, I have warned that retaliation was coming, and I’m pleased American agriculture and businesses will escape these tariffs," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, who helped insert the repeal into the omnibus spending bill.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack subsequently announced that his agency would cease enforcing the COOL standards "effective immediately."

Farm groups, however, were irate that the regulations were scrapped entirely rather than replaced with a voluntary labeling program.

“Clearly this language was produced by long-time COOL opponents who legislated in the dark of the night under the guise of solving an issue, when really their intentions completely undermine the will of American consumers and producers,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. 

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