Déjà Vu on COOL
By Inu Manak and Simon Lester, CATO Institute
February 16, 2021
If you’re the type of person who spends hours in the grocery store reading every label, then you may have noticed that some items in the meat department bear a label that tells you where the animal you’re about to consume was born, raised, and harvested. The way things work now, retailers and producers can choose to provide this additional information to consumers who are curious about these things. But in a not so distant past, there was legislation that required such information to appear on packaging, which in turn required producers to gather information about where each bit of meat originated. In a bit of a flash from that past, one of the chief supporters of what is called mandatory “country of origin labelling” (COOL) recently made remarks about how he regretted not being able implement COOL across the board. And he’s about to get a second shot at it.
Tom Vilsack was Secretary of Agriculture during the Obama administration, and he is reprising the role under President Biden. While the Biden team has recycled some personnel from the Obama years, the choice of Vilsack for agriculture has led to some serious déjà vu among trade experts who follow regulatory barriers to trade. That’s because one of the big trade issues that Vilsack oversaw was the implementation of new rules for mandatory country of origin labelling for beef and pork products, a requirement in the 2008 Farm Bill. After Canada and Mexico brought the issue before the World Trade Organization (WTO)— and after years of litigation— these measures were repealed.
At his nomination hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee, the topic of COOL came up again, with farm state senators pressing him about whether these measures could be revived. Instead of pushing back against these demands, Secretary Vilsack told the committee that “If there is a way to get it to be WTO‐compliant, I would be more than happy to work with you and I look forward to that.” The last time this all happened, Vilsack took an active approach to implementation that made the COOL regulations more protectionist. Doing the same thing again would be a mistake.
The Origins of Cool ...
The Vilsack Letter ...
Can COOL Be WTO‐Compliant? ...
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