WASHINGTON (DTN) --- Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay said that Canada opposes the U.S. Agriculture Department's plan to set up standards for a voluntary country-of-origin labeling program for beef and pork, but the subject did not come up Thursday when MacAulay met with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
MacAulay said that Canada is pleased that Congress repealed mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork to comply with a World Trade Organization decision that the U.S. program led to discrimination against Canadian and Mexican producers. U.S. slaughterhouses either rejected animals from those countries or paid lower prices for them on the grounds that they had to be segregated in the slaughter process in order to comply with the U.S. law.
The repeal, MacAulay said, should "allow industry on both sides to reap benefits." Canada, he said, is looking forward to "the restoration of the integrated supply chain" that existed before the United States imposed country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork.
After Congress repealed mandatory COOL in December, the Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service said in a memo to inspection personnel that the agency "is developing guidance for federally inspected establishments related to geographic claims they may wish to make on beef and pork muscle cuts and ground products with the COOL regulations no longer being enforced."
FSIS has not released its guidance, so it is impossible to tell whether Canada would have any problems with it. But when Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., sought to maintain a voluntary country-of-origin labeling program for muscle cuts of beef, Canada told U.S. officials that proposal would not comply with the WTO ruling.
MacAulay told reporters Thursday, "We do not support the voluntary labeling. That subject did not come up in our discussions."
John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, told DTN on the sidelines of the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Orlando, Florida., this week that the Canadian industry will monitor the Canadian-U.S. cattle trade carefully.
Canada operates a voluntary country-of-origin labeling program that runs through its industry marketing programs similar to U.S. commodity checkoffs for beef and pork.
The Canadian Embassy announced that, during his visit to Washington, MacAulay would also "meet with U.S. companies and associations from the COOL Reform Coalition, including the meat and livestock sector, to highlight the importance of the repeal and reaffirm Canada's commitment to monitoring the implementation that will ensure discrimination against Canadian cattle and hog exports is removed in the U.S. market."
Canada has retained its rights to retaliate should the United States impose any rules that interfere with the trade and the WTO decision, and would not have to return to the WTO for permission, said Masswohl, a former agricultural counselor at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.
A Canadian reporter told MacAulay that the Canadian sheep and lamb industry is upset it did not get any benefits out of the WTO case, and asked if there is any proposal to convince the United States to end country-of-origin labeling for lamb in the United States. MacAulay said the sheep and lamb industry could discuss the idea with him, but added he wanted to be sure the reporter is "fully aware of how much time it took for pork and beef."
MacAulay said the purpose of his trip to Washington was to "deepen the bilateral partnership" with the United States, and that he and Vilsack talked about growing the agricultural trade between the United States and Canada, which already amounts to $50 billion per year, as well as their joint interests in biotechnology, science, and research.
MacAulay said Vilsack told him he is not sure whether Congress will ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and MacAulay said he also cannot be certain what the Canadian Parliament will do. There will have to be a full debate over TPP in the House of Commons, MacAulay noted.
Their discussion of TPP was "long," MacAulay said, and included the pros and cons of the agreement and "what we were hearing in both countries."
Responding to questions from Canadian reporters, MacAulay said that the lower oil prices are good for farmers because they reduce the cost of production, but bad for the overall Canadian economy.
The lower Canadian dollar is good for exports, he said, but bad for consumers who will see higher fruit and vegetable costs this winter, because most of those products are imported from the United States at this time of year.
But MacAulay noted that the average share of the Canadian household budget for food has been declining and is now about 10% of the household budget.
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