BANFF, Alta. — The head of the National Pork Producers Council is convinced the United States will lose its final attempt to defend mandatory country-of-origin labelling at the World Trade Organization.
Howard Hill, an Iowa producer and veterinarian, also believes some form of labelling on retail meat is unavoidable.
“We do realize today that there is probably going to be some kind of labelling,” he said at the annual Banff pork seminar held Jan. 20-22.
“We don’t think we would ever get anything through that has no label. We just want it to be a label that is reasonable.”
The U.S. pork industry does not favour the current law, which requires a pig’s life history to be included on a retail meat label.
Hill said that kind of documentation adds costs at every step of processing from the packer to the retailer.
The dispute over the law has been ongoing since 2008, and the WTO has ruled that it discriminates against Canadian live hogs and cattle shipped to the U.S. for feeding and processing.
Hill does not expect a decision from the appeals body until spring. If the United States does not make acceptable changes, Canada and Mexico may implement retaliatory tariffs that could cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a year.
Canada is the most important destination for U.S. agriculture exports, which are worth $12 billion a year.
“Neither producers nor consumers will benefit from a disruption from new tariffs,” he said.
Mexico has not released a list, but he expects pork will be targeted. Canada’s list includes live animals, meats, fruit, furniture and wine, which affects big states like California and New York.
The American government has said the rule must be changed through legislation, but it may not act until major exporters start to feel the pinch.
“It will have to impact constituents of legislators before they get serious and get it fixed so it is WTO compliant,” Hill said.
The pork industry has been working with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other partners, but internal disagreements within the cattle sector make the process challenging.
The National Farmers Union and R-CALF favour the current law, while the NCBA wants a total repeal. Hill doubts that will happen.
Congress may approve a repeal, but there are not enough votes in the Senate to get it through.
“Hopefully by the summer we will have this thing resolved,” he said.