Agriculture minister wants Mexico to retaliate against U.S. meat-labelling rules

OTTAWA – Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is urging his Mexican counterpart to come up with retaliatory measures against meat-labelling requirements imposed by the United States.

Ritz says country-of-origin labelling, also known as COOL, is costing the North American meat industry billions of dollars. He made the comments after meeting with Mexican Agriculture Secretary Enrique Martínez and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Mexico City this week.

“I reminded Secretary Vilsack that Canada is preparing to implement retaliatory measures once authorized by the WTO (World Trade Organization),” Ritz said in a conference call Wednesday.

“I made it very clear that Canada will not blink on this issue.”

Ritz said the list of measures has caught U.S. attention and he wants Mexico to “keep up the pressure.”

The agriculture minister said legislation prevents Mexican officials from going public with retaliatory measures until a ruling comes from the WTO. But he suggested that even talking about having a comprehensive list could help with public opinion in the United States.

Ritz said his discussion with Vilsack was candid, although nothing new came out of it.

“I did get the feeling that they are coming to grips with the fact that this one is slipping away from them, but of course, it’s never over ’til it’s over,” said Ritz.

“I think there’s a growing recognition that this is harming U.S. industry far more than it would ever be any help to American consumers.”

U.S. rules on country-of-origin labels, introduced in 2002 and enforced since 2008, are blamed for reducing Canadian cross-border meat 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 free-trade agreements.

However, the provisions are supported by some border-area ranchers who compete with Canadians and Mexicans, and by their allies in Congress.

— By Jennifer Graham in Regina