PhotoIt's now up to the United States Senate and President Obama to determine whether the U.S. repeals its country of origin labeling law, known as COOL. As of now, it doesn't like either will ride to the rescue of the consumer-friendly law.

The House this week voted 300 to 131 to repeal the law that is the focus of an international trade controversy.

The law was part of the 2002 Farm Bill and was expanded to include some non-meat food products in 2008. It requires labels to tell consumers where beef, pork, fish, lamb and chicken came from.

Canada and Mexico objected, saying the U.S. law violates international trade agreements. Their appeal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) was upheld, allowing the two countries to impose retaliatory sanctions on U.S. exports if the law remained in place.

Swift reaction

The reaction on Capitol Hill was swift and fairly uniform across party lines. The threat of potential trade retaliation prompted the House Agriculture Committee to vote to repeal COOL within days of the WTO decision.

The Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act, which repeals COOL, passed the full House with the backing of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX), who called the repeal a common sense measure.

“Two of our top trading partners announced earlier this month their intention to seek more than $3 billion in retaliatory sanctions against U.S. exports,” Conaway said. “This would extend far beyond the agriculture industry and would hurt nearly every sector of the U.S. economy.”

Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee’s Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Committee, was another yes vote, saying COOL was a law that harms U.S. beef, pork, and poultry producers, including in his state.

“California exports billions of dollars of commodities and manufactured goods to Canada and Mexico, many of which are produced in the San Joaquin Valley,” Costa said. “The tariff retaliations will cost California more than $1 billion, inflicting a devastating blow to the state’s economic well-being.”

Consumer groups unhappy

Consumer groups, which originally pushed for COOL and worked for its expansion, are incensed. Chris Waldrop, a spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), says Congress bowed to overblown threats of retaliation and repealed the pro-consumer legislation prematurely.

“In fact, the WTO process is still ongoing, as the WTO must determine the level of retaliation, if any, Canada and Mexico are allowed to impose on the U.S.,” Waldrop said. “That process will take several more months. Even then, the 3 countries could agree on a resolution to the issue before a single sanction is applied.”

Waldrop says U.S. consumers want more information about their food, not less. He cited a recent CFA poll that found that a large majority of Americans strongly support mandatory country of origin labeling for fresh meat.

Meanwhile, the repeal legislation now goes to the Senate. Should the Senate also pass the repeal, it would then be up to President Obama to decide whether or not to sign it. So far, the White House hasn't commented.

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