In June, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that the U.S. country-of-origin labeling law (COOL) violates the WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade agreement. It is the third time the WTO has ruled against U.S. consumer-protection laws in 2012. Earlier this year, the WTO ruled against dolphin-safe tuna labels, and then against a ban on clove, candy, and cola-flavored cigarettes.
COOL, which dates from 2002, has been popular with consumers because of growing concern about food safety issues, like the “mad cow scare” about beef from cows infected with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). COOL was expanded in 2008 to require labeling of other products, like fruit and vegetables.
The United States will have until some time next year to change the law or face WTO sanctions. In an email to the Washington Post, Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said “What agribusiness, Mexico, and Canada could not get in Congress or through U.S. courts, the WTO delivered: Either we’re supposed to gut our consumer protection or pay millions for the right not to be fed mystery meat.”
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