World Trade Body Rejects Country of Origin Labels on Meat

Economic Indicators Associated Press

Labels on packaged steaks and other cuts of meat in the United States that say where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered will have to be dropped or revised after a World Trade Organization ruling.

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The office of the U.S. Trade Representative said Monday that the WTO has rejected a final U.S. appeal, deciding that the U.S. "country of origin" labels put Canadian and Mexican livestock at a disadvantage.

The Obama administration has already revised the labels to try to comply with WTO obligations. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that if the WTO ruled against the final U.S. appeal, Congress will have to weigh in to avoid retaliation from the two neighbor countries.

The ruling is a victory for the U.S. meat industry, which has said the labels are burdensome.

Congress required the labels in 2002 and 2008 farm laws, mostly at the behest of ranchers in the northern United States who compete with the Canadian cattle industry. Originally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed the labels to say simply "Product of U.S." or "Product of U.S. and Canada," but the WTO rejected that approach in 2012.

So USDA made the labels more specific in an attempt to win WTO approval. Now the labels say, for example, that the animal that produced the meat was "born in Mexico, raised and slaughtered in the United States" or "born, raised and slaughtered in the United States."

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The WTO rejected those revised rules last year, and the United States filed one last appeal, rejected Monday by the WTO.

Tim Reif, chief counsel for the U.S. Trade Representative, said that the administration is "considering all options going forward, and will continue to consult with members of Congress and interested members of the public regarding possible next steps."

The Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have indicated they are ready to step in on the issue. Both Texas Rep. Mike Conaway and Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts have supported past efforts to repeal the labeling laws, siding with the meat industry.

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