The World Trade Organization wants to keep us in the dark. And what exactly is inside the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement? Action Alert!
The United States currently has had a mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law in place since 2009. It requires meat to be labeled to indicate where it was born, raised, and processed—even when the meat is exported. Seafood labeling has been covered since 2005.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) previously ruled that this law unfairly discriminates against meat from Canada and Mexico and is an infringement upon international trade obligations, and now an appellate panel has upheld the WTO rulings. As a result, Canadian and Mexican officials could take retaliatory measures against US exports to cover what they argue are billions of dollars in lost revenue as a result of the food label. To forestall this, Congress may cave and rewrite our law.
Some Republicans in Congress have indicated a readiness to amend or repeal the law to avoid a trade war with Canada and Mexico. The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson (D-MN), said he would oppose a repeal of the law. Two of the largest trade groups for beef and pork issued statements urging Congress to act swiftly to amend or repeal COOL before economic retaliation from Canada and Mexico begins.
The COOL law, like mandatory GMO labeling, is popular with the public. One poll found that 92 percent of Americans support COOL. Any decision to alter or remove COOL is to surrender to large industrial pork and beef producers in the US, Canada, and Mexico.
Perhaps even more troubling is the precedent this ruling sets. If the WTO can override our law, couldn’t it act similarly against other country-of-origin laws, and then against any future GMO labeling laws? From there it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for WTO to be telling us what can be on other food labels—or even supplement labels.
The WTO is hardly a democratic institution, either: WTO dispute panels consist of three trade bureaucrats who meet in secret, do not take any input from the public, and are not screened for conflicts of interest.
This isn’t the first time the WTO has made a ruling that undermines consumers. In 1997, the WTO ruled that a European Union (EU) ban on US beef treated with hormones was illegal. Because of that ruling, the US was allowed to slap high retaliatory tariffs on a number of European exports like pork, cheese, chocolate, jams, and fresh truffles, which cost the EU $250 million annually until an agreement was reached in 2011.
This also isn’t the first time that meat industry trade groups have tried to keep consumers in the dark. As we’ve pointed out previously, until 2007, it was illegal for private beef producers to test their own cows for mad cow disease. Larger meat companies feared that if smaller companies tested their meat and could advertise it as safe from mad cow disease, they would be forced to test all of their cows—so they persuaded the USDA to block individual producers from doing the test, until a federal judge stopped this in 2007.
The bottom line is this: consumers should have access to health and safety information about their food so they can make informed choices about what to feed their families. Congress should preserve COOL and not let the WTO eliminate laws made in the public interest.
This story further illustrates how carefully we need to scrutinize the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), when and if the language is released. So far, even members of Congress have been able to see it only in secure rooms, with staff present, and without being able to take any notes! There are rumors that the agreement could shift sovereign decisions about many things—not just labeling—to organizations like the WTO, but nobody knows for sure yet. President Obama should be ashamed about keeping the American public in the dark about this.
Action Alert! Please write your legislators in Congress and urge them NOT to repeal COOL, which gives consumers important information about their food. Also indicate your concern about the secrecy surrounding the TPP. Please take action immediately.