In theory, it was a great idea: print the country of origin on all meat products and perishable agricultural commodities. They even came up with a catchy acronym: COOL (Country of Origin Labeling). Consumer lobbyists were happy, politicians were happy, and the warnings of the agriculture community were ignored.
In execution, it became a nightmare.
The adverse affects that farmers warned of became a reality. The aftermath of COOL has changed the beef and pork industries in the United States and, consequently, devestated those industries in Canada.
Before COOL, American producers would purchase live animals from Canada and commingle (mix) them with American livestock. Since there is no permanent tracking system of where these livestock originated, they would not be eligible to enter the food chain under COOL regulation.
In order to cut their losses, US farmers drastically cut back on their purchase of Canadian livestock as they could more effectively market their “product of the United States” animals.
According to AHN, the US producers imports of Canadian pigs have dropped to unprecidented lows.
“Because of COOL live hog exports had gone down 43 percent to 1.3 million. Given the continuous decline, the [Canadian Pork] council estimates total hog exports for 2009 will decrease to 5.6 million from 9.3 million in 2008.”
Since COOL legislation went into effect, the Canadian Pork Council has again petitioned their government to challenge the legislation before the World Trade Organization. They have little hope that their industry will recover without drastic measures, such as the repealing of COOL or the implementation of a permanent livestock identification system in the United States.
“Ultimately it will kill our producers in Canada… It is protectionism at its worst – without understanding what the ramifications are,” said Canadian Pork Council chairman, Jurgen Preugschas.
Unfortunately, the red tape of politics will take time to untangle, and time is something Canadian beef and pork producers don’t have to spare. This sense of urgency has resulted in strong language from the Canadian Cattleman’s Association President, Brad Wilderman, who stated on February 24, 2009:
“This latest protectionist action makes it very clear that Canada must use every tool to challenge actions and policies that harm the Canadian industry.”
I feel like AHN did a wonderful job of covering this story and presenting the facts in manner that was easy for all audiences to understand. While there are dozens of articles written by United States news organizations about the effects of COOL, it is interesting to see one from a Canadian news group.
Sadly, this article only confirms what American agriculture analysts had suspected: Country of Origin Labeling isn’t so “cool” after all.