WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken today urged Administration officials to act on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law, a provision requiring that meat and other agriculture products be identified by their source nation. In a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Klobuchar, Franken and 29 other Senators underscored the importance of working with the livestock industry to sustain the COOL law to expand consumer choice while meeting our trade obligations. The COOL law was included in the 2008 Farm Bill, which Klobuchar helped craft, and requires implementation changes due to a recent decision by the World Trade Organization.

“Americans deserve to know where their food comes from,” said Klobuchar. “Preserving this important measure improves our ability to track food in the event of recall, but expands consumer choice and gives them the option to buy locally from American farmers. The administration should take immediate action to help ensure consumers have the knowledge they need about the food they put on their families’ plates.”

"Farmers and livestock producers in Minnesota and around the country produce the best meat and produce in the world," said Sen. Franken. "The administration needs to take action to ensure that, when Americans go to the store to shop for their families, they can be confident that they're buying safe, homegrown products from Minnesota or other farm states."

The labeling rule applies to beef, pork, chicken and lamb, as well as to fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. Other provisions of the new rule allow for the tracking of meat from the farms to the packing plants to the grocery store.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Vilsack,

We are writing regarding the decision by the World Trade Organization (WTO) on December 4, 2012 that the United States must implement the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) decision on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) by May 23, 2013.

While we disagree with the DSB decision and the June 29, 2012 Appellate Body decision, we appreciate that the WTO recognized the United States’ legitimate authority to require country of origin labeling for beef and pork products. Following a deliberative and thorough process which has lasted more than 10 years, Congress enacted COOL in response to demand from consumers and livestock producers that reliable information be available about where their meat and seafood come from.

It is now critical that the U.S. Trade Representative and U.S. Department of Agriculture work together to find a regulatory solution that can be implemented by the livestock industry and serves consumers as Congress intended.  Given that the COOL regulation is highly technical in nature, it is increasingly important that both agencies work with stakeholders to find an acceptable remedy while ensuring that any changes to COOL meet the intent of Congress.

As you work toward implementing the WTO decision to avoid retaliation, we request that you focus on remedies that meet three critical principles.

·         Focus on a regulatory fix to the rules that implement the COOL statute. The WTO Appellate Body found that providing consumer information on the origin of meat is a “legitimate objective” as was intended by the U.S. law. Instead, it was the implementation of the 2009 final COOL rule that was inconsistent with the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement.

·         Ensure that a regulatory fix provides accurate information about the origin of all meat cuts to consumers. Congress intended that COOL provide as much information as possible about the origin of the meat that consumers purchase. Some flexibility is needed so that COOL can be reasonably implemented but such flexibility cannot come at the expense of providing reliable information to families about the national origin of meat products.

·         Work actively with industry stakeholders when crafting new regulations and allow the opportunity for public comment from consumers, livestock producers, and industry representatives. We also request that you keep interested Members of Congress informed on any progress to a regulatory fix to COOL.

Thank you very much for your work on behalf of Country of Origin Labeling and we look forward to working with you to resolve this issue.