By Rebekah Wilce on June 29, 2012

The World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a final ruling today against the U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. This popular pro-consumer policy, which informs shoppers where meat and other foods were raised or grown, enjoys the support of 93% of Americans, according to a 2010 Consumers Union poll. Now Congress must gut or change the law to avoid the application of punitive trade sanctions.

WTO vs. Consumers

Country-of-Origin LabelThe original meat labeling law passed as part of the 2002 farm bill and was expanded in the 2008 farm bill to apply to other foods like fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Canada, Mexico, and several other countries filed a complaint regarding the policy with the WTO in December 2008 calling the popular consumer measure a "disguised" barrier to trade. The organization initially ruled in their favor in November 2011, but the U.S. filed an appeal in March 2012. Today, a WTO tribunal made up of three trade officials ruled that the U.S. law is a violation of the WTO's legally binding "Technical Barrier to Trade" agreement. The ruling is final. If the United States does not gut or change the law, the WTO can apply punitive sanctions, usually in the form of tariffs on U.S. exports. The ruling also casts into doubt the WT0-legality of other popular labeling laws.

Last week, the Obama administration invited Canada and Mexico to join the latest trade pact under negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), without an agreement to drop their attack on the popular U.S. consumer labeling. Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch at the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, commented: "The American public is desperately waiting for President Barack Obama to show some negotiating savvy, and to start fulfilling his campaign pledges and reconsider the so-called 'trade' model that his administration is pushing with the TPP."

WTO Protest BannerThe ruling is the WTO's third this year against U.S. consumer protection laws. In May, it ruled against U.S. dolphin-safe tuna labels, again, in a case that has been dragging on for over a decade. In April, it ruled against a U.S. ban on clove, candy, and cola-flavored cigarettes. "These three rulings -- with the WTO slapping down safe hamburgers, Flipper and children's smoking prevention policy -- make it increasingly clear to the public that the WTO is leading a race to the bottom in consumer protection," said Todd Tucker, research director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

ALEC Supports Foreign Trade Tribunals Operating Outside the Constraints of U.S. Law

The TPP is one of many free trade agreements pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the right-wing corporate bill mill, which approved a resolution supporting the TPP in 2010. ALEC has supported every free trade agreement for decades, including Most Favored Nation Trading Status for China. This free trade agenda has not only weakened U.S. consumer protection but cost the country millions of jobs as factories closed and moved overseas in search of cheaper labor. These agreements also allow public health, environmental, and worker safety rules to be challenged as "barriers to trade" in trade tribunals that operate outside the constraints of U.S. law and outside of the democratic process.

Comments

I've noticed that the "country of Origin" information on food had vanished at the supermarket a short while back. This is total BS that we are not allowed to know where our food comes from. People have to wake up and realize that pesticides and food handling are NOT regulated in other countries. Have you seen the total lack of pollution regulations in China. You probably saw it on environmental TV programs. Why on earth then would you buy farm raised tilapia from China ? Since we now are a member of the WTO, this information is no longer allowed to be printed on our labels.
Tell your senator we want OUT of the WTO !

These international trade agreements must be re–negotiated so that consumer (and labor) protections are included within them. Until then, they must be renounced by the U.S. and every right-thinking government.b

Buy local....and BOYCOTT BOYCOTT BOYCOTT EVERYTHING that is not labeld local or US product. There is nothing to say that the US cannot label its products. ??? Please say so.

This is a consequence of the BIPARTISAN corporate assault on citizens. The WTO agreements were FORCED on the American people by the Clinton Administration (along with NAFTA).

If you've been voting for either of the two corporate-funded parties, then THIS IS *YOUR* FAULT!

The Green Party is the progressive alternative. The Green Party doesn't accept corporate money and represents the 99%.

5% of the vote will get the Green Party matching Federal funds.

Your Green vote sends a message to the corporate parties that passing MORE corporate laws that destroy OUR freedoms will cost them votes.

And this message is sent even if the Green you vote for loses.

VOTE GREEN!

This is a fool's game. As in "fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." BUY LOCAL. Then you don't have to worry about labeling. If you don't know where it came from, don't buy it.

We hold all the power in our wallets. Stop begging them to listen. FORCE them to listen with your pocketbook.

Sally is 100% right on the money. If a product does not tell you where it comes from, don't buy it.
Another way to handle this is for imorters to refuse to import when the exporter does not want us to know where it is from. We can force this on them by leaving these imports on the grocery store shelves.

The WTO has said that regulations requiring such labelling for all imports are a restraint of trade. If you want to know where our food or ther goods come from you will have to look at labels, and refuse to buy those which are not labelled. There is nothing in the WTO ruling which prohibits "voluntary" labelling, and current US law shoud still prohibit false labelling. So, when we stop buying unlabelled food imports, the WTO ruling will become a penalty for those vendor countries which protested the US law.

Excellent idea -- if they refuse to label it -- don't buy it. And buy local -- the 100 mile diet and all that.

This latest development is frightening.
Canada (where I live) has presently got a right-wing government bent on a series of corporate-friendly policies which are devastating for us. That our prime minister's policies re labelling are now negatively affecting U.S. citizens is certainly worrying.
Harper (our PM) has just got the go-ahead to be part of the TPP (his administration has been begging the U.S. and partners to be part of the TPP for ages).
Up to now TPP negotiations have been very secret. Canada really doesn't know what previous TPP negotiations have produced, but we do know that we've bought into an agreement that will negatively affect our Internet use, our dairy industry and many other things.
With policy makers on both side of the borders making policies that affect both Canadian and U.S. citizens negatively, we need to develop cooperative measures of resistance. Otherwise, we will, in the piecemeal fashion popular with both the PM and the President, have social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits stripped away.

Maybe it is time to take our cart and go home.

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