U.S. meat-labeling rules cost Canadian hog farmers $2 bln-group

Mon Jan 14, 2013 11:41am EST

* Canada Pork Council: trade retaliation if no US changes

* WTO ruled US must make changes by May 23, 2013

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The United States' country-of-origin meat-labeling rules have directly cost the Canadian hog and pork industry more than $2 billion, according to a report that could help determine retaliation against U.S. exports if Washington does not change its rules.

The United States must bring its labeling rules, known by the acronym COOL, into compliance with an earlier World Trade Organization ruling by May 23, 2013, according to a WTO decision last month. But citing no apparent movement by the U.S. Congress since the original WTO ruling in mid-2012, the Canadian Pork Council released its estimate of damages on Monday, and called for Ottawa to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports to Canada if there is no change by the deadline.

"COOL continues to cost hog and cattle producers tens of millions of dollars every month and must be dealt with sooner rather than later," said Jean-Guy Vincent, a Quebec hog farmer and chairman of the Pork Council.

The labeling program has led to a sharp reduction in U.S. imports of Canadian pigs and cattle, because it raised costs for U.S. packers by forcing them to segregate those animals from U.S. livestock. Some U.S. groups, however, have said COOL offers consumers valuable information about the origin of their food.

The Pork Council's report, written by economist Ron Gietz, calculated that the labeling rules cost Canadian farmers $2 billion in lost hog exports by the end of 2012, plus an additional $442 million in reduced pork shipments and suppressed prices for feeder pigs.

The report does not address damages to the Canadian cattle industry, or Mexico's livestock sector.

The WTO ruled on June 29 that the U.S. country-of-origin labeling program unfairly discriminated against Canada and Mexico because it gave less favorable treatment to beef and pork imported from those countries than to U.S. meat.

Spokespeople for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast could not be immediately reached for a comment.

Meat labels became mandatory in March 2009 after years of debate. U.S. consumer and some farm groups supported the requirement, saying shoppers should have information to distinguish between U.S. and foreign products.

Big meat processors opposed the provision, which they said would unnecessarily boost costs and disrupt trade.

The U.S. labeling law requires grocers to put labels on cuts of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and ground meat or post signs that list the origin of the meat.

U.S. officials have said they intend to bring COOL into compliance by the WTO's deadline.

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