Say Good-Bye to ‘COOL’: Congress Repeals Country-of-Origin Meat Labeling Rule

Without these labels, consumers will have a hard time telling whether their meat is from America or Brazil.
(Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
Dec 20, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Thanks to a label that reads “Product of the USA,” consumers have been able to find out if a package of steaks or pork chops in the freezer section at their local grocery store came from the United States. But soon meat lovers will be hard-pressed to figure out whether the animals on their dinner plates were raised and slaughtered in the states or halfway around the world.

The country-of-origin labeling rule, known as COOL, was repealed under the federal spending bill passed on Friday by Congress, The Wall Street Journal reports. President Obama added his signature to the bill as well.

The decision to repeal COOL comes on the heels of a ruling from the World Trade Organization that found that the labels discriminate against meat raised and slaughtered in countries other than the U.S. Earlier this month, the WTO allowed Mexico and Canada—America’s top ag partners—to impose more than $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation if the labels were not removed.

Fear that those tariffs could extend to American products outside the meat industry—including jewelry, furniture, and mattresses—put pressure on Congress to repeal COOL.

Mexican and Canadian cattle and hog producers are celebrating the move, as they say the label has greatly impacted their business. But it’s not only their products that will now be in grocery-store meat coolers. America could also see an influx of imports from Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil.

Brazil had an outbreak of mad cow disease as recently as 2014, and it has problems with hoof-and-mouth disease. The nation’s cattle industry was also a major driver of deforestation, although it has recently made strides to raise cattle without destroying the Amazon.

All meat will still undergo inspection by the USDA before it heads into grocery stores, but advocates for food labeling say that eliminating COOL is much like removing ingredient labels and that American consumers want this information. A 2013 study found that 90 percent of Americans supported country-of-origin information on their meat products.