Gerry Ritz hopes farm bill will change U.S. meat labelling

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says he believes the United States will back off on country-of-origin labelling regulations on beef and pork, and he's hoping to convince the U.S. to change the rules in its upcoming farm bill.

Agriculture minister says Canada is pressing U.S. administration on country-of-origin rules

A cow eats in a feedlot at Suwannee Farms in O'Brien, Fla. Country-of-origin labelling laws favour U.S.-raised cattle, Canadian cattlemen say. (Tamara Lush/Associated Press)

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says he believes the United States will back off on country-of-origin labelling (COOL) regulations on beef and pork, and he's hoping to convince the U.S. to change the rules in its upcoming farm bill.

"The farm bill is one of the president’s top priorities. It’s certainly an ideal time to increase the pressure, to make amendments in the farm bill — that would be the quickest fix," Ritz said in an interview with CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange on Tuesday.

The COOL regulations track beef and pork through the meat processing and distribution systems and require labels that state where animals are born, where they are slaughtered, and where they are packed.

Canada's third-largest customer for beef, U.S. packer Tyson Foods, has already said it will stop buying Canadian cattle because of the rules, which go into effect on Nov. 24.

Ritz and his provincial counterparts from Alberta and Manitoba were in Chicago on Monday, speaking to the North American Meat Association and to ranchers and packers.

Ritz said the COOL laws are a "political solution to a problem that doesn't exist."

"We don’t see any need for it at all. We recognize each other’s science, we recognize each other’s food safety regimes, and consumers in the U.S. are not lining up and saying, ‘We have to have this,’" he said.

"Of course, the American consumers will ultimately pay that bill  as well as Canadian ranchers and pork producers who will take less for their product moving into the American market," he added.

Canadian pork and beef producers estimate the rule has cost them about $1 billion so far.

Ritz said U.S. retailers also are complaining about the millions of dollars they will have to spend on different labels for meat products raised and/or slaughtered in different countries.

Canada is appealing the case before the World Trade Organization and is in talks with government administration, including U.S. Secretary for Agriculture Tom Vilsack, said Ritz.

Ready to retaliate if needed, says Ritz

Canada is ready to retaliate if necessary, the minister added.

"At the end of the day, we will also use retaliatory measures, should they be required," Ritz said.

"It’s the last bullet we want to fire, but certainly we have to have that in our arsenal so the Americans know we are serious about putting those retaliatory measures in play."

Tyson Foods announced last month that it won't be buying slaughtered cattle from Canada because of the high costs associated with COOL. The company bought an average of 3,000 cattle a week.

Ritz calls the loss "devastating," saying it would become "catastrophic" for Canadian producers if other U.S. processors follow suit.

In the meantime, Canada is proceeding with a World Trade Organization action seeking permission to retaliate against the U.S.

The WTO ruled in Canada's favour in a dispute over COOL laws the U.S. implemented in 2008, but the U.S. rewrote its legislation and brought in new rules this year.

"We continue to press at the WTO. We’ve asked for an appeals panel — we have that in place now," Ritz said.

"The same three jurists that sat in on the first go-round will be there on the appeal. We welcome that — they’re up to speed on the issues."

With files from Canadian Press


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