By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor
OMAHA (DTN) -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told DTN on Monday that the Obama administration likely won't appeal the World Trade Organization ruling against U.S. meat labeling until sometime in January.
The U.S. Trade Representative's office will make the call on whether to appeal last week's adverse ruling on country-of-origin labeling. Vilsack said he knows the USTR is in the process of considering an appeal, but the U.S. also has been asked to take its time, he said.
"We've received indications from the WTO that we probably should wait until January to make that decision because they are not capable of processing any additional appeals, based on the level of work at the WTO that is currently in the queue," Vilsack said in an interview. "So we have some time in which to make that decision."
A WTO panel ruled that the U.S. can have a country-of-origin label for meat products, but the current USDA rule forces packers to discriminate against Canadian and Mexican cattle, thus affecting the ability of producers from those countries to market their cattle in the U.S. The label rule requires heavy segregation of non-native livestock, which effectively discriminates against foreign-born animals.
To change the ground rules for USDA would effectively require congressional action to get rid of the COOL mandate. Until then, Vilsack said he has asked USDA staff to see if there is another way "to craft a label that would walk us down on the fine line between the congressional mandate, which encourages very specific labeling, and the WTO decision that basically says you can't have a label that creates an undue burden in terms of segregating livestock. So we are trying to see if there is any way we can continue to comply with the COOL legislation while seeing if there is a way we can comply with the WTO and not get ourselves into a position where we are violating the WTO rules."
Canada's bombastic ag minister, Gerry Ritz, has forcefully demanded the U.S. drop COOL altogether. He declared Friday on the radio show AgriTalk that an appeal just delays the inevitable. Ritz said on the radio program that COOL is already costing U.S. consumers and Canadian producers "in the neighborhood of $1.5 to $2 billion dollars a year, is what industry has been telling us." He threatened retaliatory tariffs on a broad range of U.S. products, "from Kentucky bourbon to Minnesota mattresses," and Ritz planned to highlight that to every state while the White House moves to appeal the ruling.
"Nothing short of full repeal will actually make this thing go away," Ritz told AgriTalk. "We're not going to spend the next years looking over our shoulder waiting for another shoe to drop."
Ritz also said on the radio program that he hoped the U.S. would make its decision before the next WTO meeting Nov. 18.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com.
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN.
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