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Letter to Secretary Vilsack - Johnson Applauds USDA on COOL Efforts


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U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) today applauded United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in his continued efforts to protect consumers' access to information about the origin of their food by upholding the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. Secretary Vilsack issued a new proposed rule to revise the current COOL requirements in response to last year's World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling. The public comment period on the rule closed last week

"I appreciate Secretary Vilsack's efforts to strengthen the COOL requirements that provide valuable information for American consumers about where their food comes from, and promote the hard work of our farmers and ranchers," Johnson said. "USDA's efforts will also enable the United States to better meet our world trade obligations by enhancing the accuracy of information on the label, which the WTO cited as a deficiency in our program."

Johnson has worked for the last decade toward implementation of COOL since he authored the provision in the 2002 Farm Bill. COOL passed Congress, and was signed into law again in the 2008 Farm Bill following roadblocks to implementation during the Bush Administration. The letter to Secretary Vilsack thanks him for the efforts he has undertaken in regards to the proposed rule and urges him to ensure that consumers continue to have access to accurate information about the source of their food.

A Copy of the Letter is Below:

April 15, 2013

The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary, United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave., SW

Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

Thank you for your continued efforts to protect consumers' access to information about the origin of their food. I appreciate the work you have done to uphold our country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law in the face of challenges from Canada and Mexico. I also appreciate your good-faith effort with the issuance of the proposed rule to strengthen the current program in a manner that better meets our World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments.

As you know, on June 29, 2012, a WTO appellate body (AB) issued a ruling with respect to the United States' appeal of a Dispute Settlement Panel's earlier finding upholding complaints from Canada and Mexico that our COOL program treats imported livestock less favorably than domestic livestock. I was disappointed in, and disagreed with, the decision.

However, while the ruling partially upheld the complaints, it also rightly affirmed the legitimacy of the concept of COOL (the statute) and affirmed that the United States has the right to require such labeling. Additionally, one component of the ruling states that our COOL program violates our WTO commitments because the information provided under the current labeling regime does not fully inform consumers as to the intended information sought under the program. You have rightly taken the approach in the proposed rule of requiring more specific information about each production step be included on the label. I am pleased that you used this rationale as the basis for your efforts to strengthen the labeling regime. Specifying this information more accurately reflects the intent of Congress, and the inclusion of such information will better enable the United States to meet our trade commitments with respect to the WTO ruling.

I am also pleased that the proposed rule addresses a deficiency in the current labeling regime allowing the commingling of muscle cuts of meat from animals of multiple countries of origin. The problem has been that the current regime has enabled processors and packers to mix together muscle cuts of meat from animals that may be of both exclusively U.S. origin with meat from animals of multiple countries of origin and apply an overly broad origin label to those packages. Eliminating the commingling allowance enhances the accuracy of the information contained on the label.

Again, I appreciate the effort you have undertaken with the proposed rule. As you consider stakeholder input and continue the rulemaking process, I encourage you to ensure that consumers continue to have access to accurate information about the source of their food.

As an original author of the COOL law, I look forward to working with you to resolve this issue.


Tim Johnson

United States Senator

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