USDA published in the Federal Register this week its proposed changes to mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL). Now that everyone’s had a week to digest the proposed changes, I feel confident in characterizing the overriding sentiment as one of confusion.
It doesn’t appear the rule change attempted at all to bring the law into compliance with the World Trade Organization finding of last November when it ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico that MCOOL is inconsistent with U.S. obligations under several articles of the WTO agreement.Instead, the proposed changes unveiled last week only addressed the problems that many had with the original rule.
The new proposed rule would require labels on muscle cuts of beef and other meats to specify where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. It also would removethe allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.
The rule as stated is worthless. The reforms may address the total failure that the law has been, but it definitely will add more costs to the system. And it’s all irrelevant, unless the U.S. plans to abandon its WTO agreements, which seems highly unlikely.
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So I see these proposed changes as just a lot of fluff, with no attempt to address the problem. It appears to me to be an attempt to garner brownie points with proponents of MCOOL, while letting the law fall into oblivion without attempting to actually salvage COOL.
The USDA rule is strange, indeed, because it doesn’t address the WTO issues; in fact, it probably compounds them. The proponents of MCOOL do get some things that they’ve long hoped for, but they’re likely destined to lose the rule in its entirety.
It’s just more of the same old Washington, D.C. double-talk. They like to tell you what you’re getting, but what you actually get is usually almost directly the opposite.
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