While the Country of Origin Labeling debate wages on in the courtroom and within the WTO, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., is concerned that it won't be funded properly.
DeLauro, who has previously advocated for COOL, called on USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack last week to enforce the rule and ensure that it will be funded. The latest government spending bill, she noted, does not approve of any Agriculture Marketing Service spending for COOL implementation and enforcement.
"If your Department does not enforce COOL, U.S. ranchers will not be able to differentiate their products with a U.S. label and consumers will not have the information they need at the point of purchase," DeLauro wrote to Vilsack. "Accurate information is essential in a competitive, free market and COOL provides consumers with essential information about the origin of their food."
DeLauro joins a list of industry groups like the U.S. Cattlemen's Association and National Farmers Union who are supportive of COOL regulations, largely on the basis of consumer choice.
Other groups, however, like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, say the rule would create additional costs for processors and continue to exacerbate the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico trade relationship.
The two countries previously filed a WTO dispute, alleging that the rule created a consumer bias towards imported goods. They later achieved a WTO ruling that required the U.S. to revise COOL in 2012, but the revised rules again do not meet WTO guidelines, Mexico and Canada say. A new dispute panel will hear complaints on the issue Feb. 18-19 in Geneva.
Meanwhile, a court case brought by NCBA and other meat industry groups against the USDA continues, and legislators supporting the COOL regulations continue to go to battle for it in Washington, too – either through requests for funding or the farm bill debate.
DeLauro, who is not on the conference committee for the farm bill, noted in her letter that while COOL is facing questions from many sides, the USDA should stand firm in its support.
"While the rules are being contested by meat industry stakeholders and the governments, I strongly urge USDA to continue forward with implementation and enforcement of COOL and I offer my support in doing so. American families deserve the complete story of where their food comes from," she said.
The revised rule – which requires more specific labeling on meat products indicating where the originating animal was born, raised and slaughtered – was officially implemented on May 23, 2013.
Read more on the COOL Rule:
COOL Opponents Plan To Appeal Injunction Decision
Court Denies COOL Opponents' Request for Injunction
Court Grants COOL Supporters' Request to Intervene in Labeling Lawsuit
Canada Issues Formal COOL Challenge