USDA issues proposed rule to amend COOL

USDA issued a proposed rule to modify the labeling provisions for meat covered under the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program.

“USDA expects that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the current mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The proposed rule would modify the labeling provisions for muscle cut covered commodities to require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps (i.e., born, raised, slaughtered) occurred and would remove the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.

In June 2012, the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) affirmed an earlier WTO Panel decision finding that the United States’ COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports and thus were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The United States has until May 23 to come into compliance with the WTO ruling in COOL.

Notice of the proposed rule was to displayed in the March 11 Federal Register and can be viewed at http://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection. Comments must be received by April 11. AMS will consider all timely comments that are submitted regarding the proposed rule. Comments should be submitted electronically at http://www.regulations.gov or to Julie Henderson, Director; USDA, AMS, LPS, COOL Division; 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Room 2620-S; Washington, D.C. 20250; telephone number (202) 720-4486; or fax (202) 354-4693.

Under COOL, retailers must provide their customers with information about the origin of various food products, including fruits, vegetables, fish and shellfish and meats. Mandatory COOL requirements help consumers make informed purchasing decisions about the food they buy. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is responsible for the implementation, administration and enforcement of the COOL regulations.

The final COOL regulations became effective March 16, 2009. Since then, AMS has devoted significant resources to education and outreach. Over these last four years, AMS has closely reviewed industry compliance with COOL. In 2012, USDA and its state cooperators conducted more than 3,800 compliance reviews of retailers. These reviews established an estimated 98% compliance rate for commodities under COOL. To learn more about COOL visit www.ams.usda.gov/COOL.