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U.S. COOL rule goes back for review: report

The U.S. government’s final rule on mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) for meat and other foods will go back to U.S. President Barack Obama’s new agriculture secretary for review.

Obama, who was sworn in Tuesday, replacing George W. Bush, has directed U.S. federal officials to delay for 60 days the effective date of regulations passed in the Bush administration’s final days that haven’t yet taken effect, the Reuters news service reported Wednesday.

Obama’s new agriculture secretary, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, told reporters Wednesday that regulations under review will include the COOL rules, Reuters said.

The U.S. legislation, which requires food products sold to U.S. consumers to carry labels listing the products’ countries of origin, has been criticized for years by observers as a costly trade barrier dressed as a consumer information tool.

But the final COOL rules, scheduled to take effect March 16, instead have come under fire from several of COOL’s early supporters within the U.S., who said it’s been watered down enough to allow U.S. meatpackers to sell meat with a more generalized, less specific mixed-origin label.

R-CALF USA, a protectionist group of northern-state ranchers, argued last week that the final COOL rule allows U.S. packers to label an entire day’s production as “mixed-country product,” even if all but one animal was of U.S. origin.

Supporters of the final COOL rule said it would streamline what had threatened to become an expensive segregation process, with some cost-conscious U.S. packers already having scaled back or halted their purchases of Canadian meat and livestock.

Canada, which along with Mexico had planned to take the U.S. into consultations at the World Trade Organization over COOL, last week put that trade challenge on hold.

Canada’s agriculture minister, Gerry Ritz, said last week that the final COOL rules “will help to address the concerns we’ve consistently raised with our American counterparts.”

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