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Ritz seeks data on COOL rule’s effects

Exporters of Canadian foods subject to the U.S. government’s new final rule on country-of-origin labelling (COOL) will want to keep data on its effects, the federal ag minister recommends.

Coming out of a meeting Friday with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the final rule on COOL, which took effect Monday, is still the same rule proposed by the former Bush administration.

However, Ritz said, quoted by the Prairie pork industry news program Farmscape, “the fly in the ointment is this idea that for the next six months the Americans will use that period to assess whether a voluntary application of this is getting them to the end game they’re looking for.”

And Ritz said he “came away from the meeting not really assured that they had an end game in sight. That’s a bit disconcerting that we go through six months of angst… and not know at the end of the six months what will happen.”

Vilsack said he would not immediately revise the final rule as published in January, but said he has told the U.S. industry he expects adoption of his suggested “voluntary” guidelines..

Critics have said Vilsack’s proposals make for a much stricter interpretation of COOL than Canadian livestock producers had hoped. Vilsack also said he would consider further revisions to COOL if U.S. processors didn’t follow the rule’s intent.

Ritz reiterated on a conference call from Washington that Canada’s World Trade Organization challenge of U.S. COOL — a challenge that went into abeyance when the Bush administration’s interim rule came into effect — is “idling at the curb, ready to go.”

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association late last month urged Ritz to put the WTO challenge in gear and step on the gas, citing Vilsack’s plans for the regulations.

Farmscape’s Bruce Cochrane quoted Ritz as encouraging affected Canadian industries to quantify the negative effects of COOL and their customers’ response to Vilsack’s request for voluntary labeling measures.

Ritz also said he plans to provide Vilsack with “monthly updates” on COOL’s effects on Canada, and would work with U.S. and Canadian industries to collect the data needed to prove COOL is taking both industries in the wrong direction.

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