Congress Wants To Eliminate Country-Of-Origin Labels For Meat

A $1.15 trillion spending bill passed by Congress on Friday, December 18, includes a provision that would repeal country-of-origin labels for meat, a sometimes polarizing rule within the livestock industry.

Country-of-origin labeling for meat, which has been in effect since 2009, requires meat producers to identify an animal's country of origin — including where it was raised, slaughtered, and processed — for beef and pork,  a regulation that echoes the way that other industries might boast that their products are "Made in the USA." Such labeling is especially valuable to small American farmers, who count on the distinction to set prices and establish their reputations within the meat industry.

Origin labeling tends to be particularly favored in times when food safety is of particularly high concern, as when it was discovered that poultry intended for consumption within the U.S. was being processed in China, a country with a history of poor food safety regulation.

The practice of country-of-origin labeling (COOL), however, was ruled to be discriminatory by the World Trade Organization, particularly against livestock imported from Canada and Mexico, two major trade partners with the U.S. Now, fearing that both countries could impose up to $1 billion in tariffs on American products in protest of such labeling rules, American lawmakers are scrambling to prevent retaliation.

The measure, which received bipartisan support in Congress, is expected to be approved by President Obama.