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USDA: Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (April 11, 2013)

Apr 11, 2013
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Re: Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Chicken, Goat Meat, Wild and Farm-Raised Fish and Shellfish, Perishable Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng and Macadamia Nuts1

Docket No. AMS–LS–13-0004 

Dear Ms. Henderson:

On March 12, 2013, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published in the Federal Register a proposed rule to amend the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations to change the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities among other things (Proposed Rule). On June 29, 2012, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body (AB) issued a report upholding a WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) panel report that ruled COOL was an illegal trade barrier. The WTO Arbitrator has granted the United States time until May 23, 2013, for the U.S. to implement the recommendations and rulings of the DSB. The Proposed Rule has been issued in response to the DSB rulings and recommendations. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) does not believe the Proposed Rule satisfies the requirements of the DSB rulings. The Proposed Rule however, will impose significant additional new burdens on food retailers and wholesalers. As such, compliance with any final rule should only be required if the WTO rules that it makes the COOL program comport with the DSB rulings and recommendations. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that the WTO rules any final rule fully addresses with DSB rulings and recommendations, we do not believe that compliance with such final rule should be required until at least 18 months following its date of publication in the Federal Register. FMI appreciates the opportunity to comment on this important matter. 

FMI conducts programs in public affairs, food safety, research, education and industry relations on behalf of its nearly 1,250 food retail and wholesale member companies in the United States and around the world. FMI’s U.S. members operate more than 25,000 retail food stores and almost 22,000 pharmacies with a combined annual sales volume of nearly $650 billion. FMI’s retail membership is composed of large multi-store chains, regional firms and independent operators. Its international membership includes 126 companies from more than 65 countries. FMI’s nearly 330 associate members include the supplier partners of its retail and wholesale members. 

Summary
I. USDA should not require compliance with the final rule until a final ruling is made by the WTO as to whether or not the final rule fully addresses the DSB report. If the final rule does not fully address the DSB report, it should be rescinded.

II. The Proposed Rule imposes significant burdens on retailers and wholesalers for no benefit.

III. The Proposed Rule will lead more retailers to drop meat and poultry muscle cuts of non-U.S. origin. I

V. The Proposed Rule does not satisfy the requirements of the DSB rulings and recommendations. V. USDA should make the existing COOL program less burdensome to reduce segregation costs.

Click here or the full set of FMI's public comments on this issue. 

1 78 Fed. Reg. 15645 (March 12, 2013).