Shoppers could soon have a harder time finding out where their red meat comes from.
The Obama administration has already revised the labels once to try to comply with previous WTO rulings in favor of Canada and Mexico. Since those efforts didn't work, Agriculture Secretary
"Congress has got to fix this problem," Vilsack said after the decision. "They either have to repeal (country of origin labeling) or modify and amend it."
Though the ruling went against the U.S., it's a victory for the U.S. meat industry, which has said the labels are costly because of segregation of livestock, record-keeping and new packaging that is required. After the decision, meat processors quickly called for repeal of the labeling laws.
Canada and Mexico issued a joint statement calling on the United States to repeal the labeling rules and saying they will seek authorization from the WTO to take retaliatory measures against U.S. exports.
The joint statement of Canadian and Mexican agriculture and trade officials said the rules cause Canadian and Mexican livestock and meat to be segregated from those of U.S. origin — a costly process that has forced some U.S. companies to stop buying exports. The labeling is "damaging to North America's supply chain and is harmful to producers and processors in all three countries," the officials said.
They said they would "continue to work closely" on the issue with the United States.
The National Farmers Union, a farm group that has backed the country of origin labels, said negotiations would be better than congressional intervention.
"As we have seen in other disputes, once decisions are handed down, WTO members often work together to find a solution that will work for them," said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. "In this case, such a solution must involve continuation of a meaningful country-of-origin labeling requirement."
Congress required the labels in 2002 and 2008 farm laws, mostly at the behest of ranchers in the northern United States who compete with the Canadian cattle industry. Originally, the
USDA then revised the labels and made them more specific in an attempt to win WTO approval. Now the labels say, for example, that the animal that produced the meat was "born in Mexico, raised and slaughtered in the United States" or "born, raised and slaughtered in the United States."