It is anyone’s guess how the new U. S. government administration will respond to NAFTA and existing Canada/U. S. trade agreements, but the wording of the final rule regarding Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) of Canadian meat products, appears to be an improvement, says a spokesperson for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association (CCA).
The final COOL rule, which was announced in early January allows greater flexibility for packers in labeling meat products, says Travis Toews, a Beaverlodge, AB beef producer and the CCA’s foreign trade chair.
That greater flexibility, will make it easier for packers by reducing some of the segregation needed as Canadian cattle are processed in U. S. packing plants. This isn’t a home-free situation, however, notes Toews.
First of all the final rule has only been announced, it hasn’t been implemented and secondly, the new administration under President Barack Obama has put a hold on implementation pending a review of the agreement.
“Mr. Obama has asked that the current COOL legislation be reviewed by the new administration, which means there could be a delay or even a reopening of the comment period, which concerns us” says Toews. “It could all mean further delays. However, the final rule, as proposed has been positively received by packers, but only time will tell.”
The final COOL rule would allow U. S. packers to combine the labeling of B and C classification cattle. This is a more flexible position than the wording of the interim agreement.
Under the interim COOL rule cattle have five classifications: A — cattle born and raised in the U. S.; B— Canadian born feeders, fed in the U. S. ; C— Canadian fed cattle imported for immediate slaughter; D— foreign meat imported into the U. S. labeled Product of Canada; and E— ground beef carrying the names of all countries who supplied product.
The A, B, C classifications were the main issue. Packers could run separate lines of A-cattle, cattle born and raised in the U. S. without much problem. But the interim rule also called for B and C cattle to be segregated, processed separately and labeled separately.
“Packers felt they could handle a two label system, but a three label system is virtually impossible,” says Toews. With that pending rule, the Canadian meat industry began to see more U. S. packers who didn’t want to handle Canadian livestock — this rule applied to beef, pork, poultry, lamb and bison, as well.
The final rule, however, says that meat from C and B classification cattle can carry a single label. “The final rule allows for C cattle, which are Canadian cattle ready for slaughter to be combined with B cattle,” says Toews. “Meat from the two classifications could share the same label provided the C-label processing run had at least one B-label animal in it.
“Ultimately this means a packer who may have fair access to B-label cattle, now can also go out and source Canadian cattle direct for slaughter (C-cattle) and basically process them in the same run.” It makes for a simpler, more flexible system.
Toews says while early indications are that packers are pleased with the simpler rule, it was too early to tell if the announcement of the rule translated into any processing line changes. The rule has only been announced it hasn’t been implemented.
While the final COOL rule was a positive step, Toews says it doesn’t eliminate “a fundamental problem with the country of origin labeling legislation as it applies to live cattle,” he says. “We as an industry maintain any Canadian cattle processed in the United States should be labeled product of the U. S. A. Under the spirit of NAFTA and World Trade Organization law, when a product is substantially transformed it becomes a product of the country it was substantially transformed in.
“All cattle entering the U. S and processed there should be labeled product of the U. S. That is the way U. S. cattle are treated in Canada which is consistent with the spirit of NAFTA and rules of the WTO.”
Toews says Canadian beef producers aren’t concerned that U. S. consumers will avoid Canadian meat because it is labeled as such at the retail level, the industry is concerned that because of the logistics of segregating cattle and meat in processing and retailing because of COOL both processors and retailers will be reluctant to handle Canadian meat products.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]