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Repeal mandatory labelling rules

The clock is ticking for American farmers and manufacturers to avoid billions of dollars in sanctions and tariffs on U.S. exports to our biggest trading partners. On May 18, the World Trade Organization rejected a U.S. appeal and ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico on mandatory country of origin labeling requirements for beef, pork, and chicken products. WTO found that labeling requirements for muscle meat cuts were in violation of U.S. obligations with our trading partners, Canada and Mexico.

This is the fourth time WTO has ruled against the U.S. on these labeling requirements. Why is this ruling significant?

Unless Congress acts to protect American producers by bringing U.S. rules into compliance, Canada and Mexico have taken steps to retaliate within the next few weeks against the U.S. to the tune of $3 billion in annual sanctions on American agricultural and non-agricultural goods.

Retaliation over labeling requirements will not just have a negative impact on American beef, pork and chicken products, retaliation can apply to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of Washington exports of apples, cherries, pears, potatoes, wine and manufactured goods.

In arguing against repealing the labeling requirements, some falsely claim that they are really about food safety. However, meat products produced or imported in the U.S. are already subject to mandatory inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service.

Additionally, before arriving in the U.S., imported meat products are required to be produced with an equivalent food safety system to that of the U.S. The reality is that all meat products sold in the U.S., regardless of origin, must be inspected to equally rigorous standards.

The repeal of labeling requirements will have no impact on the food safety inspection program, ensuring the U.S. continues to produce the safest food supply in the world.

If labeling is not about food safety, does that mean it implies an economic benefit? Compliance with the requirements actually adds additional costs for American packers, processors, producers and ultimately consumers.

Given Washington’s proximity to Canada, processors depend on Canadian cattle, but under the mandatory labeling requirement, U.S. and Canadian cattle must be processed separately, adding increased cost with no safety benefit. Further, even when repealing mandatory labeling, there is nothing preventing producers from continuing to marketing their products as U.S. cattle – it just is not a requirement.

Congress must act quickly to prevent potentially devastating retaliation in the form of sanctions and tariffs, which is why I cosponsored legislation to repeal country of origin labeling requirements as an urgent response to the WTO’s ruling. Last week, I voted with the House on a bipartisan basis, 300 to 131, to pass this legislation to shield American farmers from retaliation by simply repealing the labeling meat cut provisions to make the U.S. compliant with our obligations.

The U.S. must play by the rules we agreed to with our biggest trading partners and export markets. Time is running out to avoid the costly penalty of trade sanctions.

I’m urging the Senate to repeal mandatory labeling requirements.

Congressman Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, represents Okanogan County as part of the 4th Congressional District. Call him at 202-225-5816.

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