Senators Unveil Voluntary COOL Proposal; Amendment to Repeal COOL also Proposed

This week Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) announced their intent to introduce legislation that would replace mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements for most meat products with a voluntary program. The bill strikes mandatory COOL requirements for beef, pork and chicken, but still requires COOL verification criteria to be met if a packer voluntarily designates the product’s country-of-origin.

Stabenow floated a similar proposal last month, prior to a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on COOL. The main differences are that her earlier proposal applied to retailers, while the new version applies to packers who “voluntarily designate any raw single-ingredient beef, pork, or chicken as exclusively having a United States country of origin.” Stabenow’s previous proposal did not include chicken and left mandatory COOL requirements in place for ground beef and ground pork. In the proposal unveiled this week, the only ground meat products that would remain subject to mandatory COOL are lamb and venison.

At last month’s committee hearing, officials from Canada and Mexico submitted letters emphasizing that they will follow through with WTO-sanctioned retaliation measures unless COOL requirements are completely repealed. Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Trade Minister Ed Fast reiterated that position this week, after reviewing the new voluntary COOL proposal. Canada is seeking authorization of C$3 billion (about $2.3 billion) in retaliatory measures, while Mexico is seeking $653 million.

On June 10, the House of Representatives approved a bill repealing COOL requirements for beef, pork and chicken on a vote of 300-131. This week, shortly after the Stabenow-Hoeven proposal was announced, a group of senators led by Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) filed an amendment to the highway funding bill (H.R. 22) that would mirror the House’s COOL repeal measure.