On June 29, 2012, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body held that the United States’ Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program negatively affects other countries’ rights to trade freely. WT/DS384/AB/R; WT/DS386/AB/R. Under COOL, retailers must inform consumers of the country of origin of certain food products, including most beef and pork products. 7 U.S.C. §§ 1638-1638d. In 2008, Canada and Mexico filed disputes with the WTO, alleging that COOL was inconsistent with the United States’ international trade obligations because it disadvantaged livestock producers who export cattle and hogs to the United States. Previously, a WTO panel found that COOL resulted in unfavorable treatment to exporting producers and that providing consumers with country of origin information was not a legitimate justification for COOL. In ruling on the United States’ appeal, the WTO Appellate Body upheld the panel’s decision that COOL had a discriminatory impact on imported beef and pork, but held that COOL can be a legitimate tool to inform consumers about the origin of products as long as it does not affect other countries’ rights to trade freely.
Written by Joseph Negaard, Research Assistant
Penn State Law, Agricultural Law Center
July 11, 2012