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Letter to Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Kirk

U.S. Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Mike Enzi (R-WY) today called on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to appeal a World Trade Organization (WTO) decision hurting consumers' right to know where there food is coming from and our nation's producers' ability to sell their high-quality products. A bipartisan group of 19 Senators led by Johnson and Enzi are urging action by the Administration.

"I applaud the panel for acknowledging that we have the right to require labeling, but I am concerned about the impact that the decision by the WTO panel will have on USDA's ability to continue implementing country of origin labeling. I want the Administration to appeal the decision because people want to know if the beef or pork they are eating was raised in the USA," Johnson said.

"Our producers give us their best and we in government need to continue to step up and give them our best," said Enzi. "The COOL statute is trade compliant and helps guarantee consumers have confidence in the labels they find in the grocery aisle. The administration needs to stand firm behind this program and make sure the WTO panel considers all sides before any changes are made."

On November 18, 2011 a WTO Dispute Settlement Panel (DSP) ruled on complaints from Canada and Mexico. While the DSP ruled that the U.S. has the right to require COOL, it ruled that the labeling provides less favorable treatment to imported meat from Canada and Mexico. Johnson and Enzi worked together to write the original COOL law in 2002 and have worked tirelessly over the years to defend the law.

A Copy of the Letter is Below:

Secretary Tom Vilsack Ambassador Ron Kirk

U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

1400 Independence Ave., SW 600 17th Street, NW

Washington, DC 20250 Washington, DC 20508

Dear Secretary Vilsack and Ambassador Kirk:

We write regarding the November 18, 2011, World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement Panel (DSP) finding affirming arguments made by Canada and Mexico over the implementation of the United States Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law. The DSP validated the statutory authority for the United States to require such labeling; however, the panel also found that the manner in which the program was implemented treats cattle and hogs from those countries less favorably than U.S.-origin livestock. While we are pleased that the DSP affirmed our right to require such labeling, we are concerned about the impact that the DSP's ruling will have on our ability to continue providing such information to consumers.

As you are aware, included in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill) was a common sense plan for implementing a food labeling program to provide consumers with information about the origins of the food they purchase. It was the intention of Congress in developing this provision that such labeling would be nondiscriminatory in its treatment of imported products by requiring the labeling of both domestic as well as imported products.

With that goal in mind, we appreciate the thoughtful rulemaking process undertaken by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) of USDA in developing the rule implementing COOL. While we believe that improvements should have been made to the final rule, we believe that it appropriately establishes a labeling system which provides important and useful information to consumers while not placing an undue burden on the industry. Additionally, we believe that the labeling system continues to provide the same opportunity for imported livestock to compete in the domestic marketplace as was the case prior to USDA's implementation of COOL.

We appreciate the work you have done in defending both the COOL statute and its implementation before the WTO's dispute settlement proceedings. As you know, many of our major trading partners, including Canada and Mexico, themselves impose their own country of origin labeling requirements for imported meats. As such, it is clear that it is within our authority under our WTO obligations to implement such a program.

We request that your agencies take appropriate actions to appeal the DSP's ruling and to work to ensure that our COOL program both meets our international trade obligations while continuing to provide such information to consumers. We appreciate your attention to this matter, and we look forward to working with you moving forward.


Sen. Tim Johnson
Sen. Mike Enzi
Sen. Sherrod Brown
Sen. Jon Tester
Sen. Charles Grassley
Sen. Carl Levin
Sen. Dianne Feinstein
Sen. Tom Udall
Sen. Ron Wyden
Sen. Kent Conrad
Sen. Claire McCaskill
Sen. Mary Landrieu
Sen. John Barasso
Sen. Michael Bennet
Sen. Jeff Merkley
Sen. Tom Harkin
Sen. John Hoeven
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Sen. John Thune

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