USDA issues final rule to amend COOL provisions; industry pushes back

May 28, 2013

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a final rule to modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut commodities covered under the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program.

“USDA remains confident that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The final rule modifies the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps (i.e., born, raised, slaughtered) occurred and removes the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.

In June 2012, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) affirmed an earlier WTO Panel decision finding that the United States’ COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and thus were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The United States had until May 23, 2013, to come into compliance with the WTO ruling in COOL.

The final rule went into effect on May 23, 2013. Under COOL, retailers must provide their customers with information about the origin of various food products, including fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish, and meats. Mandatory COOL requirements help consumers make informed purchasing decisions about the food they buy. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is responsible for the implementation, administration, and enforcement of the COOL regulations.

In response to the final rule, the Food Marketing Institute’s (FMI) President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin issued the following statement: “It is unreasonable to have a 98-page rule of this magnitude effective immediately. Furthermore, it is profoundly unfair for the regulatory authorities to impose a rule that will have a significant, financial impact on our members when they know that the rule is unlikely to address the concerns raised by the WTO dispute settlement panel, making yet another round of costly changes inevitable. As a result of the extensive comments filed by FMI and other groups, USDA and the Office of Management and Budget reclassified the COOL meat rule from economically insignificant to a regulation that has an impact of more than $100 million annually on the economy—a number FMI believes is actually much higher.”

“Regulations are expensive and have consequences,” Sarasin maintained, “USDA cannot continue to impose these kinds of costly, poorly designed rules without considering their impact on retailers and consumers.”

COOL press release

COOL final rule (pdf)

FMI statement