Agriculture minister expects U.S. to appeal upcoming ruling on meat labelling

CALGARY – Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says the next ruling in a long, drawn-out dispute over meat-labelling requirements in the United States is only a couple of weeks away.

Ritz said the World Trade Organization is to release its next ruling around Oct. 20, but that won’t be the end of the conflict.

“With the mid-terms (elections) going on in the U.S., this is a political solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. I fully expect them to appeal again. They have one last gasp,” Ritz said Thursday.

U.S. country-of original labelling, known as COOL was introduced in 2002 and has been enforced since 2008. The law requires labels on packaged meat from outside the country to say where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

Ottawa contends that the rules have cost Canadian and other meat producers billions of dollars. The policy is blamed for reducing Canadian cross-border beef and pork exports by half.

Some U.S. companies have said they can’t afford to sort, label and store meat from Canada differently than meat from domestic animals. Industry groups argue the information is of no real value to the consumer. Opponents also say the rules violate provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

COOL is supported by some U.S. ranchers who compete against producers in Canada and Mexico.

Ritz said he doesn’t expect the World Trade Organization will rule against Canada later this month.

“At the end of the day we’ve proven our case at the WTO over and over and over again,” he said. “American industry is on side with us and are taking their government back to court as to what it’s going to cost them to implement this rationale that nobody’s asking for.”

Progress is being made, he added.

He spent Wednesday at a trade conference in Chicago where he spoke out against COOL and told delegates that all three NAFTA countries should recognize and promote free and unfettered trade to drive competitiveness, create jobs and generate economic opportunities.

He also warned that Canada is prepared to seek authorization from the WTO to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports.

“I had separate meetings with a number of state ag officials as well — giving them a list that we would retaliate on in their state. Of course they’re all taken aback when they see what type of produce we’ll be going after,” Ritz said.

“I know we had the attention of both California and Kentucky at the end of the day talking about resolutions at the federal level simply because of attaching bourbon and California wine.”

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