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More Meat Controversy

There’s been a lot of talk about beef lately, and now there’s even more. Except this time it includes meat of all kinds, and this controversy could severely harm relations between the U.S. and Canada. It could also mean that our GDP is going to take a hit. That is, if we stop sending meat to the United States, our biggest trade partner by a long shot.

It was on Thursday that the United States government announced new regulations that would place “country of origin labeling,” known as COOL, labeling on their meat packages. This they say, will track livestock throughout the farming, processing, and distribution systems; and it will also allow their consumers to be more informed about the meat they purchase and eat.

Tom Vilsack, U.S. agriculture secretary, said that these new rules would also help to mend relations between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.

“USDA remains confident that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations,” Vilsack said in a statement.

Under these new rules labels would be placed on all packages of beef, pork, and chicken sold in the United States. These labels would indicate where the livestock has been and would include information such as “born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States,” or “born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States.”

So what’s the problem?

This isn’t the first time the States has tried something like this. Back in 2008 they did the same thing, and within a year Canada lost about 50 per cent of their cattle shipments to the U.S. And the Canadian Pork Council has already said that these labeling rules have already cost Canada about $1 billion in livestock exports.

Canadian officials also believe that the labeling system is simply too costly and too burdensome to carry out. Never mind the “disintegration” of the North American supply chain that the States say these measures would actually help to protect.

But these new rules won’t help the U.S. keep within those international trade obligations they say they’re trying so hard to uphold. And Canadian officials have said that if the meat labeling goes through, we’re ready to retaliate.

“Canada is extremely disappointed with the regulatory changes put forward by the United States today,” said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and Trade Minister Ed Fast in a joint release. “Canada will consider all options at its disposal, including if necessary, the use of retaliatory measures.”

And that does seem to be the case. Currently Canadian officials are drawing up a list of imports we will no longer accept from the United States; as well as other countries where our meat can be shipped.

“Even their own industry has come forward and said this is going to cost them hundreds of millions of dollars as well to comply, so we are analyzing what they come forward with,” Ritz said on a phone interview while in Kazakhstan.

“Of course the next step is to go back to the World Trade Organization. That will take a month or two as the Americans try to sell what they come forward with and we try to convince the WTO that it is completely off the mark.”

But in addition to just fighting the U.S. on this one, we also need to find some new countries to ship our meat to.

“As the Americans are making their market tougher for us to get into, then it is incumbent on governments to get out around the world and start putting more market share in other than the American market.”

So far the opposition, the NDP, are in agreement with how the government is handling the issue.

“New Democrats believe that fair, robust trade rules are critical to the success of our industries,” said Don Davies, the party’s trade critic. “The government must step up and protect these important sectors.”

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