Alberta’s agriculture minister says Canada’s battle against country-of-origin labelling will continue, even though changes in the U.S. farm bill are far down the list of priorities for American legislators.
Verlyn Olson said he heard a revealing assessment about the complexity of the farm bill and its relationship to COOL during a recent U.S. mission he took with federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz.
“One of the staffers that we talked to when we were in Washington ex-plained to me that there were about 30 issues on the table in their farm bill and the COOL issue was probably number 30,” Olson said in a Dec. 12 teleconference.
COOL, which officially became enforceable in late November, requires U.S. meat packers to label beef and pork with information on where the source animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The extra logistics and costs that are required to comply have reduced American demand for Canadian cattle and hogs, causing an estimated $1 billion per year in losses to the two industries.
Olson said Canada has American allies in its fight against COOL be-cause some packing plants depend on Canadian animals and may re-duce or close operations without them, resulting in job losses.
He said Republicans generally support Canada’s position, while Senate Democrats remain a challenge to convince.
“We have to remain hopeful that it’s not a done deal yet,” Olson said.
Alberta Beef Producers chair Greg Bowie said his organization also hopes that U.S. farm bill negotiations will provide COOL relief.
“There’s still optimism that it might be dealt with within the farm bill, and if that’s the case, it will happen right away, but time is rapidly running out on that one,” said Bowie.
Canada has already won a ruling from the World Trade Organization that COOL contravened trade regulations. The WTO has yet to rule on an amended version of COOL.
Canada issued a list of retaliatory measures earlier this year that it intends to take against American products if the WTO once again rules in Canada’s favour and then approves the list.
“We don’t want to get into a trade war with the Americans, but we’re really not left with much else,” Olson said.
Bowie said that’s also ABP’s general position.
Though some equate the COOL trade issue with the decades-long softwood lumber disagreement with the United States, there is one major difference that gives hope.
“With the softwood lumber, we didn’t have a lot of allies within the U.S.,” Bowie said. “On this thing, we have a lot of allies within the U.S. They’re the main people backing the dollars for the lawsuit.”
Olson said it could take two years for the issue to work its way through the WTO process if COOL isn’t addressed in the farm bill.
“Meanwhile, our industry bleeds.”