World Trade Organization Rules Against Popular U.S. Country-of-Origin Meat Labels on Which Consumers Rely
Compliance Panel Says U.S. Policy Still Violates WTO Despite Changes Made to Comply With 2012 WTO Order; U.S. Should Not Change COOL Policy
NOTE: Public Citizen will hold a press briefing about this ruling on the morning of Thursday, October 23. Speakers will include Roger Johnson (president, National Farmers Union), Lori Wallach (director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch), Elizabeth J. Drake (partner, Stewart & Stewart), Patrick Woodall (research director, Food & Water Watch) and a representative of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. Stay tuned for the teleconference number and more information.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today’s ruling by a World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance panel against U.S. country-of-origin meat labeling (COOL) policies sets up a no-win dynamic, and the Obama administration should appeal the ruling, Public Citizen said.
If the administration were to weaken COOL, U.S. consumers would lose access to critical information about where their meat comes from at a time when consumer interest in such information is at an all-time high and opposition would only grow to the administration’s beleaguered trade agenda. If the administration again were to seek to comply with the WTO by strengthening COOL, then Mexico and Canada – the two countries that challenged the policy – likely would continue their case, even though cattle imports from Canada have increased since the 2013 strengthening of the policy.
The ruling further complicates the Obama administration’s stalled efforts to obtain Fast Track trade authority for two major agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. Both of these pacts would expose the United States to more such challenges against U.S. consumer, environmental and other policies.
“Many Americans will be shocked that the WTO can order our government to deny U.S. consumers the basic information about where their food comes from and that if the information policy is not gutted, we could face millions in sanctions every year,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Today’s ruling spotlights how these so called ‘trade’ deals are packed with non-trade provisions that threaten our most basic rights, such as even knowing the source and safety of what’s on our dinner plate.”
The WTO compliance panel decided that changes made in May 2013 to the original U.S. COOL policy in an effort to make it comply with a 2012 WTO ruling against the law are not acceptable and that the modified U.S. COOL
policy still constitutes a “technical barrier to trade.” The panel decided that the strengthened COOL policy afforded less favorable treatment to cattle and hog imports from Canada and Mexico, despite a 52 percent increase in U.S. imports of cattle from Canada under the modified policy. The panel stated that the alleged difference in treatment did not “stem exclusively from legitimate regulatory distinctions.”
The United States has one chance to appeal this decision before the WTO issues a final, binding ruling. Under WTO rules, if the U.S. appeal fails, Canada and Mexico would be authorized to impose indefinite trade sanctions against the United States unless or until the U.S. government changes or eliminates the popular labeling policy.
Today’s ruling follows a string of recent WTO rulings against popular U.S. consumer and environmental policies. In May 2012, the WTO ruled against voluntary “dolphin-safe” tuna labels<http://www.citizen.org/documents/press-release-dolphin-tuna-5-16-12.pdf> that, by allowing consumers to choose to buy tuna caught without dolphin-killing fishing practices, have helped to dramatically reduce dolphin deaths. In April 2012, the WTO ruled against a U.S. ban on clove-, candy- and chocolate-flavored cigarettes <http://www.citizen.org/documents/release-on-wto-cigarette-ruling-4-4-12.pdf>, enacted to curb youth smoking. In each of those cases, U.S. policy changes made to comply with the WTO’s decisions also have been challenged before WTO panels similar to the one that issued today’s ruling.
“The WTO again ruling against a popular U.S. consumer protection will just spur the growing public and congressional concerns about the big Pacific and European trade deals the administration is now pushing and the Fast Track authority to railroad through Congress more agreements that undermine basic consumer rights,” said Wallach.
The COOL policy was created when Congress enacted mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat – supported by 92 percent of the U.S. public<http://www.greenerchoices.org/pdf/ConsumerReportsFoodLabelingSurveyJune2014.pdf> in a recent poll – in the 2008 farm bill. This occurred after 50 years of U.S. government experimentation with voluntary labeling and efforts by U.S. consumer groups to institute a mandatory program.
In their successful challenge of COOL at the WTO, Canada and Mexico claimed that the program violated WTO limits on what sorts of product-related “technical regulations” signatory countries are permitted to enact. The
initial WTO ruling was issued in November 2011. Canada and Mexico demanded that the United States drop its mandatory labels in favor of a return to a voluntary program or standards set by an international food standards body in which numerous international food companies play a central role. Neither option would offer U.S. consumers the same level of information as the current labels. The United States appealed.
The WTO Appellate Body sided with Mexico and Canada in a June 2012 ruling against COOL<http://www.citizen.org/documents/press-release-wto-rules-against-yet-anohter-consumer-protection-policy-06-29-12.pdf>. The U.S. government responded to the final WTO ruling by altering the policy in a way that fixed the problems identified by the WTO tribunal. However, instead of watering down the popular program as Mexico and Canada sought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture responded with a rule change<http://www.citizen.org/documents/press-release-USDA-stands-firm-on-COOL-rule.pdf> in May 2013 that strengthened the labeling regime. The new policy provided more country-of-origin information to consumers, which
satisfied the issues raised in the WTO’s ruling. However, Mexico and Canada then challenged the new U.S. policy. With today’s ruling, the WTO has announced its support for the Mexican and Canadian contention that the U.S. law is still not consistent with the WTO rules.
Across the United States, communities are fighting to defend the resources they need to produce food. On this World Food Day, Oakland-based Food First/the Institute for Food & Development Policy and the Netherlands-based Transnational Institute release a report exploring how corporate control of the food system is undermining the livelihoods of farmers, farmworkers, fisherpeople, communities of color, and indigenous peoples in the United States. The report also cites numerous examples of community-based resistance, grassroots solidarity, and broad-based alliances that are resisting the corporate takeover of land and resources.
While a new wave of “land grabbing” has been sweeping the globe, the trend is not confined to poor countries of the Global South, the report argues. In the United States, land and other resources are being concentrated in the hands of new financial and institutional actors—thanks to policies that favor profits over people, and finance over food. The report identifies five cross-cutting themes that affect how land and resource grabs are occurring: labor, race, finance, water, and climate. These areas, the report notes, are also important sites of resistance and potential transformation.
Titled “Land and Resource Grabs in the United States: Five sites of struggle and potential transformation,” the report is authored by Food First researchers Zoe Brent and Tanya Kerssen. It is the seventh issue in Food First’s Land & Sovereignty in the Americas briefs series, which pulls together research and analysis from activists and scholars working to understand and halt the alarming trend in land grabbing—from rural Brazil and Central America to US cities like Oakland and Detroit—and to support communities in their efforts to protect their lands as the basis for self-determination, food justice, and food sovereignty. The series is a project of the Land & Sovereignty in the Americas Activist-Researcher collective, coordinated by Food First.
The full brief is available for free download at: http://foodfirst.org/publication/land-resource-grabs-in-the-united-states/
To learn more about the Land & Sovereignty in the Americas Collective project, visit:http://foodfirst.org/land-and-sovereignty-in-the-americas/
Thousands of dairy farmers in the United State are realizing many of the short-comings of the new margin insurance program (called the Producer Protection Plan) that is being strongly supported by difference experts all across the United States. It has come to light that nearly half of dairy farmer’s costs of operating their dairy farms will not be covered by the new Producer Protection insurance program.
Please read more about the concerns with the Producer Production plan at the Dairybuisiness press release here.
The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) is honored to name the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) of Palestine, based in Gaza and the West Bank, and Community to Community Development /Comunidad a Comunidad (C2C) of Bellingham, Washington, as co-recipients of the 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize.
Their stories of continuous struggle to defend the rights of their communities – farmers and fishers in the occupied Palestinian territories and migrant Mexican farm workers in Washington State, both seeking to produce their own food, on their own land, in their home communities – stand in stark contrast to the storylines coming from agribusiness: that technological changes to crops can meet human needs and resolve hunger.
Please read about The Food Sovereignty Prize here
The Des Moines Register covered the Event and quotes NFFC Outreach Coordinator Lisa Griffith in their article. Please Read the Des Moines Register article here.
Dena Hoff of NPRC/NFFC/Via Campesina, other NFFC members and NFFC staff were among the multitudes participating in various events at last weekend’s Climate Summit. Kathy Ozer spoke Friday at the Church Center for the United Nations on behalf of the International Day of Peace; Dena Hoff participated in a Saturday workshop panel “Cook Organic, Not the Planet” at St. John’s University, and walked on Sunday walked with Carlos Marentes, Jr., of Via Campesina N.A, Lisa Griffith and other Via representatives in a large contingent of Frontline communities including Indigenous and Immigrant food providers, and populations displaced or otherwise severely affected by climate change. Savi Horne (LLPP), Brett Tolley (NAMA) and many US Food Sovereignty Alliance members were also part of the masses seeking to wake up world leaders about the need for government intervention and corporate inclusion to address climate change.
Please Read this article at Civil Eats which summarizes the messages of the Climate Summit events.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Lisa Griffith mobile – (773) 319-5838
Washington, DC (September 24, 2014) - Despite many months of working to the contrary, the National Family Farm Coalition learned last Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had determined that Dow’s Enlist corn and soy were safe for release to the public for planting. Enlist corn and soy have been genetically engineered to resist both glyphosate (or Roundup) and 2,4-D, a component of agent orange used to defoliate Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war. We are extremely disappointed that USDA ignored the concerns of farmers and consumers around these two GMOs that could (and likely will) contaminate fields of non-GMO and organic corn and soy. We are even more disturbed about the likelihood of drift of the pesticides 2,4-D and glyphosate. 2,4-D is especially toxic and volatile. It can drift as a fine mist for miles, destroying non-resistant crops, including fruit, nut and shade trees; grapes, strawberries, melons, tomatoes and beans; and non-GMO and organic varieties of sweet corn and soybeans. There is a huge potential for farmers to lose crops and livelihoods, and consumers and communities to lose access to locally grown foods that define their cuisine and culture.
In addition, more weeds will evolve to resist 2,4-D and glyphosate, encouraging the agrichemical companies to continue engineering crops that tolerate more herbicides. According to the International Survey of Herbicide-Resistant Weeds at weedscience.org, their May 2014 posting indicated that weeds have developed resistance to 155 different herbicides. These herbicide-resistant seeds will cause havoc in their own right. Those falling into non-GMO and organic fields will contaminate those fields, and farmers selling crops from those fields will miss income in the short-term, and could lose their certification in the long-term. This was a significant problem in the Pacific Northwest just last year when genetically engineered wheat was discovered in a field, shutting down markets to Japan and other countries trying to avoid GMOs. The companies that produce the seeds and their herbicides are not currently liable for contamination, which is difficult to prove and further burdens their victims. NFFC is also concerned about the health risks for farmers spraying these herbicides, as well as their families and neighbors. Parkinson’s disease and some cancer are more common in rural farming communities today than 30 years ago, but proving the connections is difficult.
The USDA’s decision on Dow’s corn and soy was released the day after NFFC and several allies offered perspectives on genetically engineered crops to the National Research Council at the National Academies of Science, and a few days before NFFC vice president Dena Hoff spoke in New York at the Climate Justice Summit. Thousands of summit participants marched to raise awareness about the connection between genetically engineered crops, chemical herbicides, environmental damage and climate change. Missouri farmer Margot McMillen, who lost numerous tomato plants to 2,4-D drift this summer, stated earlier this year, “I believe that in every state of the union, there have been accidental plant deaths from 2,4-D spraying. Most will go unreported, because there’s no one keeping track. But if this herbicide overuse continues, I predict it will kill the planet.”
We hope that the Environmental Protection Agency hears our concerns and opposes the release of Dow’s 2,4-D crops. The millions of family farmers, ranchers, workers, fishermen and eaters who will be affected by these herbicide-resistant, genetically modified organisms deserve a voice within our federal government.
NFFC unites and strengthens the voices and actions of its diverse grassroots members to demand viable livelihoods for family farmers, safe and healthy food for everyone, and economically and environmentally sound rural communities.
This week has been a jam packed week here in DC. In addition to the Appropriations process and a few conferences (more on those later), the fifth round of negotiations for the EU-US trade deal (TAFTA, the TransAtlantic Free Trade Agreement, or TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) happened on the George Mason University School of Law campus.
As part of our work through the Citizens Trade Campaign, we participated in a press conference to highlight some of our concerns including the need for transparency, preservation of our safeguards and sovereignty. Here are some photos from the press conference.
Kathy also spoke specifically on food safety and procurement issues. Please read our press release here.
More photos can be found here. We also live tweeted as much as we could from the rally and from the stakeholder day (@FamilyFarmCo #SaveOurSafeguards #ExposeTAFTA #TAFTA). Kathy, along with a number of allies in CTC, presented and took questions from negotiators and industry representatives present.
Based on recent news coverage and statements made during the stakeholder day, it is clear that TAFTA’s momentum is slowing. The harmonization of regulations process was widely discussed. There are concerns the harmonization process will weaken regulations both here and in the EU and create a system, through the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS), that will severely hinder federal, state, and local regulations in the future. The biggest factor affecting TAFTA seems to be the likelihood with which Trade Promotion Authority (TPA, the “new” Fast Track) will pass through Congress. Given the upcoming election cycle, it will either happen before July or not until the lame duck session. If TPA passes, Congress will effectively abdicate it’s constitutional role to control our foreign trade policy and both TAFTA and the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) will be handled exclusively by the Executive Office and the USTR. (If TPA doesn’t pass, TAFTA and TPP will be, more or less, dead in the water.) We still have one final fail safe with TAFTA – each member of the European Union has to agree to it. Given the current political situation in Germany, among other countries, it may become politically impossible for TAFTA to be ratified, restarting the whole process.
We at NFFC are staying up to date on this process and will continue to update here and in our newsletter.
Read our official statement on the Farm Bill released by the Conference Committee last night.
As Federal Labor Board Confirms Walmart Broke the Law and California Court Names Walmart in Massive Wage Theft Lawsuit,
OUR WALMART, SUPPLY CHAIN AND WAREHOUSE WORKERS RENEW CALLS FOR IMPROVING JOBS AT WALMART
Group Calls Walmart’s Sign on to Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program a Win for Workers; Demands Company Do More to Improve Wages and Treatment of Workers
WASHINGTON – Following the federal Labor Board’s landmark decision to prosecute Walmart for its aggressive violations of workers’ rights in 14 states and a decision by a California court to name Walmart in a massive wage theft lawsuit at warehouses, OUR Walmart members and supporters nationwide are renewing their calls for the company to improve jobs.
OUR Walmart member Martha Sellers who works at Walmart in Paramount, CA said:
“Walmart must publicly commit to increase wages and improve working conditions for the hundreds of thousands of us who work in Walmart’s retail stores, warehouses, global supply chain, food processing plants and those who harvest food. As the largest retailer and employer in the country and the world, Walmart can have an impact on strengthening the US and global economy by improving jobs.
“Farm workers harvesting food for Walmart will no doubt benefit from the increase in wages that will result from the company signing onto the Coalition for Immokalee Workers’ Fair Food Program, but the company must continue to improve wages and jobs for all of the workers that help Walmart profit.
“Even though Walmart is making $17 billion in annual profits and the Walton family has a combined wealth of $144.7 billion, the company has not taken any meaningful steps to improve jobs despite the unprecedented growing calls by workers and communities across the globe. Instead, workers like me are paid less than $25,000 a year and can’t get the full time hours we need. And other workers in warehouses and the supply chain are also facing horrific safety conditions at work.
“Walmart must continue in a direction of listening to the workers that are helping the company profit. We hope that new company CEO Doug McMillon will do more to hear from workers about improving jobs and customer service so that together we can help Walmart succeed.”
Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board issued the largest-ever complaint against Walmart for breaking federal labor law by violating workers’ rights. The complaint alleges Walmart illegally fired and disciplined more than 60 workers in 14 states, including those who went on strike last June to speak out for better jobs. The complaint—the largest ever against Walmart in both size and scale—names 63 individual store managers and company spokesperson and vice president of communication David Tovar’s illegal threats made to employees.
In California, Walmart was just named as a joint employer in a major California warehouse operation where workers have alleged in court that they have had millions of dollars of their wages stolen.
In its treatment of workers at factories overseas, Walmart is also falling short on ensuring safe working conditions and fair pay:
- To date Walmart has still refused to compensate victims of the Tazreen & Rana Plaza deadly tragedies despite incontrovertible evidence that these locations were producing garments for Walmart stores.
- Walmart has also refused to sign the Accord in Bangladesh, which has been signed by more than 70 other major retailers, that will help ensure no further tragedies.
- Walmart has yet to ensure that the use of forced labor & abuse of guest workers will not take place in suppliers in the US, as had occurred in 2012 with workers of a Louisiana seafood supplier.
Kimi Lee, National Coordinator of the United Workers Congress said:
“Given that Walmart is the largest private employer on the globe and in the US, Walmart bears the highest responsibility in ensuring that those who are a part of making Walmart successful are able to successfully take care of themselves and their families, which for hundreds of thousands is not currently possible.
“Together, we are calling on Walmart to immediately raise standards and improve working conditions for the millions of workers who work in Walmart’s retail stores, warehouses, global supply chain, food processing plants and those who harvest food destined for Walmart shelves.”
The above is a press release from OUR Walmart, Jobs With Justice, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, National Guestworkers Alliance, National Family Farm Coalition, United Farm Workers, United Workers Congress and Warehouse Workers United .
Giovanna Frank-Vitale 646.200.5334, Giovanna.firstname.lastname@example.org