Commentary by Nathan Stevens of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
The American market is incredibly important for the red meat sector in Canada. Having an open border and a market that works efficiently is critical to success for commodity production. However, the introduction of Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) in the United States a few years ago has added costs and market disruptions for Canadian producers of red meat. Despite winning a WTO challenge on the matter, the situation is not getting any better for our export-oriented producers. As this battle drags on, is it time to find other opportunities for Canadian producers?
The battle over Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling south of the border has taken another step backward for Canadian producers and American processors. These groups were seeking a preliminary injunction against changes to U.S. Country of Origin Labeling that would require even more information on their labels regarding where animals were born, raised and slaughtered, along with the removal of the option to commingle animals from multiple countries. One of the key arguments was that the First Amendment rights of processors were being infringed upon.
The injunction was overturned because requesting “factual and uncontroversial information” that provides accurate details on a matter the government has deemed to be important to consumers is not a First Amendment infringement. Secondly, the judge found that the Country of Origin Labeling rules are reasonably related to a government interest in preventing deception of consumers. Knowing where your food comes from is considered important to American consumers.
The elimination of commingling livestock will increase the cost of processing south of the border. Perhaps Canadian producers and processors need to look at new options to maintain the size of primary production in Ontario and Canada. Maybe the increased cost in America will provide an edge to the Canadian red meat sector if it can come together and expand its production capacity. However, it will require hard work and commitment from everyone in the chain to succeed.
The Country of Origin Labeling dispute is showing no signs of ending any time soon. Despite winning the WTO dispute, the American rules have become more stringent, not less to the detriment of Canadian producers. While this battle continues, perhaps it is time to look outside the box to find a solution that can move the entire industry forward here in Canada.