Canada proposes its own COOL regulations

Country of origin labeling for imported food products that are substantially finished outside of the country are not a good comparison for livestock or durum wheat exports from Canada, say officials.  |  Michael Raine photo

It might seem hypocritical for Canada to be proposing country-of-origin labelling regulations at the same time it is railing against them in other countries.

However, there is a subtle but important difference between the two, say senior officials of a couple of Canadian farm groups.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has published its proposed new Food Labeling Modernization regulations in Canada Gazette, Part 1.

One of the proposed changes would require country-of-origin labelling (COOL) on all wholly imported foods.

Current regulations only require that type of labelling on certain products such as meat, dairy and fish. Other foods can use “imported by” or “imported for” on the label instead.

The proposed new rules would require COOL labels on every imported product that was last substantially manufactured, processed, treated or preserved in another country. They would be implemented December 2022.

The proposal comes at a time when Canadian farm groups have been hurling barbs at trading partners that have either implemented or are reconsidering COOL regulations of their own.

The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA) issued a news release last week expressing its disappointment with some aspects of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union.

CAFTA is primarily concerned about the continued use of non-tariff trade barriers in the EU despite CETA being in force for nearly two years.

“Exports of durum, the primary Canadian agricultural export to Italy, has fallen by more than 60 percent since CETA has come into effect as a result of protectionist country-of-origin labelling regulations,” CAFTA president Brian Innes said in the news release.

The COOL controversy also recently resurfaced in the United States where there were reports that some members of the United States House of Representatives want to include mandatory COOL in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Canada’s meat sector spent years and millions of dollars fighting U.S. COOL legislation, which was eventually ruled a violation of international trade rules by the World Trade Organization.

John Masswohl, director of government and international relations with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said there is a big difference between what the CFIA is proposing and what was employed by Italy and the U.S.

Canada’s meat sector has no issue with COOL on products sold in the same form as they were shipped, which is what the CFIA is proposing.

What it objects to is requiring labelling when the imported product was used as an ingredient and transformed into a different product in the importing country.

That places extra costs and burdens on processors to track foreign inputs and separate them from domestic inputs.

“Their easiest way to manage that is to not use the imported inputs anymore,” said Masswohl.

“It’s not about the theory of country-of-origin labelling, it’s how you do it. You have to pay very close attention to the details. The requirement they concocted in the U.S. was designed to be trade restrictive.”

Cam Dahl, president of Cereals Canada, said the same distinction applies in the Italy durum case.

Canada’s proposed COOL regulations would apply to imported pasta from Italy.

Italy’s regulations apply to the imported durum, allowing food companies to identify whether their pasta was made with Italian or Canadian durum.

That forces manufacturers to segregate ingredients and individually label different runs of pasta, which is costly and time-consuming.

“It really does tie the hands of the processors and sets up for that discrimination on the ingredients going into the product,” said Dahl.

Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution policy at Dalhousie University, agreed that what Canada is proposing differs from what the Americans and Italians implemented.

He said the intent of Canada’s proposed new COOL regulation is about transparency and informing end consumers rather than restricting imports of foreign products.

However, in today’s topsy-turvy international trade environment, it may not be viewed that way by countries like Italy and the U.S.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a point of contention,” said Charlebois.

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