Canada’s beef industry is closely watching a new review of meat labeling practices in the United States, wary of previous U.S. regulations that have led to a bitter trade dispute between the two countries.
President Joe Biden also issued an executive order this month directing the United States Department of Agriculture to consider issuing new rules defining when meat can bear a “Product of the United States” label.
It comes as some U.S. farm groups continue to call for the return of mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL), regulations that U.S. lawmakers repealed in 2015 after the World Trade Organization (WTO) cut back. ruled that they violated international trade law.
Dennis Laycraft, vice president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said they were discussing with the federal government and diplomatic officials in Washington, DC, the review and closely monitoring the process.
While he doubts that MCOOL itself could be resurrected, he said it was important that Canadian producers were not discriminated against in any other way, even if it was through changes to the system. ‘voluntary labeling.
“There’s kind of a shade of gray around these things,” Laycraft said.
“If you put it a certain way, it could lead to price reductions [on Canadian beef], then that in our mind would violate the WTO ruling. “
Many American ranchers have struggled to break even on their cattle even as grocery store prices have skyrocketed. The revised labeling rules are part of a larger effort to improve the market competitiveness of the US meat industry.
This includes a thorough review of when meat can carry a “Product of USA” label.
The current rules have aroused the ire of some ranchers, as meat can be labeled “Product of the United States” if it is only processed in the United States – including meat raised in another country but processed in the States. -United. The labels are voluntary.
Groups like the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU) believe that the “Product of the United States” label should only apply to cuts of meat from animals born, raised and harvested in the United States.
“We believe that many consumers are willing to pay extra for this product,” said Matt Perdue, director of government relations for NDFU.
“The voluntary label is really about giving consumers that option. And when they choose that option, they actually know what they’re buying.”
The Canadian beef industry notes that the North American industry is very tightly integrated, with animals moving back and forth between countries.
It sets the value of its exports of beef and live cattle to the United States at between $ 2.5 billion and $ 3 billion a year, and it is wary of any changes that would hamper that trade.
Meanwhile, calls for mandatory country-of-origin labeling have not gone away.
Bill Bullard, managing director of R-CALF USA, an American livestock trade association that supports the return of MCOOL, believes the review brings them one step closer to its return.
“I think it’s a push for Congress to step in now and reintroduce a mandatory country-of-origin labeling bill,” Bullard said.
“The feedback has been positive, but we are not yet committed to actually introducing the legislation that we are seeking.”
The MCOOL rules were the source of a long-standing trade dispute between Canada and the United States.
U.S. supporters of MCOOL have argued that consumers deserve to know where their meat comes from. But the rules met stiff opposition from both sides of the border, with some calling it protectionism.
During the trade dispute, Ottawa estimated that US legislation cost Canada’s pork and beef industries about $ 1 billion a year. After its ruling, the WTO gave Canada the right to impose $ 1 billion in trade duties.
Laycraft said Canada still has the option to retaliate with tariffs if the United States violates the ruling.
He said the Canadian sector also enjoys the support of groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the largest national association representing American cattle producers, which argues that MCOOL was expensive and ineffective.
Laycraft noted that Biden’s Agriculture Secretary has indicated that whatever the United States does on meat labeling, it will be WTO-compliant, but added that it is monitoring how it goes. .