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Myth vs. Fact: Setting the Record Straight on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)

Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is a failed government mandate with serious economic implications. Should the World Trade Organization(WTO) rule against the United States for the 4th time in the coming days, Canada and Mexico will be authorized to seek retaliation against the U.S. by imposing economically devastating tariffs on U.S. exports. Supporters of COOL rely on misinformation and false claims to make their case. Let’s see how their arguments stack up against the facts:

Myth: COOL is about food safety

Fact: Mandatory COOL has no effect on food safety. All meat products produced in the United States are subject to mandatory inspection by the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). Any product coming into the U.S. (meat, poultry, etc.) must be inspected by a system at least equal to that of the U.S. BOTTOM LINE: All meat products sold in the U.S., regardless of origin, must be inspected to equally rigorous standards. Country of origin labeling does not change any of these inspection requirements. 

Myth: Mandatory COOL complies with our international trade commitments

Fact: The WTO panel has said in past rulings that the USDA mandatory COOL rule violates WTO obligations by discriminating against imported livestock. Canada has issued a preliminary retaliation list targeting various commodities and manufactured products that would affect every state in the U.S. For example: Texas could face tariffs ranging from five to 20 percent on $9.2 billion worth of exports including beef, spirits, machine parts, and prepared foods. This map identifies potential consequences of retaliation for each of the 50 states.

Myth: Retaliation from Canada and Mexico regarding COOL will only affect the agriculture industry

Fact: If the WTO finds the U.S. COOL rule to be non-compliant with our international trade obligations, Canada and Mexico will be authorized to retaliate against the United States by imposing a set of tariffs on U.S. exports. Canada and Mexico indicate that damages exceed $2 billion. The U.S. may seek arbitration in an attempt to lessen this figure, but businesses relying on long term supply contracts are already feeling the pinch of retaliation brought about by uncertainty in the market place.

Myth: COOL helps consumers know where their food is produced and is a valuable marketing tool for producers

Fact: According to a 2012 Kansas State University research study, the COOL program has no effect on purchasing decisions. The study found that typical U.S. residents are unaware of COOL and do not look for meat origin information when purchasing meat products.

Myth: Adding a label on meat products is a simple, inexpensive task

Fact: Agriculture Marketing Service estimates approximately $2.4 billion in added expenses for the livestock and meat industry to comply. 

Myth: COOL repeal is only supported by the meat industry

Fact: American jobs would be lost in every sector of the economy if tariffs are levied on U.S. exports to Mexico and Canada.  More than 120 state and national organizations and businesses have voiced concern over the potential impacts of COOL, including U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, Wine Institute, Auto Care Association, and Consumer Electronics Association. See the list of national and international organizations that oppose the implementation of COOL.

Fact: One small label could have a large impact.