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World Trade Organization veils meaty information

Posted Oct. 20, 2014 / Posted by: Kate Colwell

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A World Trade Organization tribunal ruled today that the U.S. law requiring country-of-origin labeling for meat violates international trade law, essentially denying Americans the right to know where their meat comes from. The United States is likely to appeal, but the WTO Appellate Body has in the past consistently ruled against U.S. food safety and product labeling measures.

All this happens in the context of likely congressional consideration of Fast Track trade promotion legislation. Fast Track would grease the skids for congressional approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade agreements, which are currently under negotiation. Both deals would undermine government regulatory authority to ensure that food is safe and that consumers can make informed decisions about which products to buy. Like the WTO, they would impose restrictions on food safety, labeling, and other environmental and health safeguards.

Kari Hamerschlag, Senior program manager for Friends of the Earth’s Food and technology program, made the following comment:

This latest World Trade Organization ruling against country-of-origin labeling for meat directly counters the growing American desire for transparency about their food. The ruling powerfully evidences how international trade deals like the Trans Atlantic and Trans Pacific agreements will undermine food safety, product labeling standards and a wide range of other safeguards. The United States should appeal the WTO tribunal decision and take food safety and labeling measures off the table in the Pacific and Atlantic trade negotiations.

To prevent future similar abuses of the consumer public, Congress must reject any legislation providing for Fast Track approval of such deals. Fast Track would force quick up or down votes on these trade agreements, without the possibility of making congressional amendments to preserve food safety, labeling and other common sense public health and environmental measures.

The WTO tribunal ruled that revisions to U.S. country of origin labeling safeguards made in May 2013 did not conform to a 2012 WTO appellate ruling against the original U.S. law on country-of-origin labeling. While the U.S. can appeal it, this most recent tribunal decision follows in a train of  successful WTO challenges in similar cases related to dolphin-safe tuna labeling and sale of clove and candy flavored cigarettes.

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Expert Trade Contact: Bill Waren, Senior trade analyst, (202) 222-0746, wwaren@foe.org

Expert Food Contact: Kari Hamerschlag,  Senior program manager, Food and technology program, (510) 978-4420, khamerschlag@foe.org

Communications Contact: Kate Colwell, Communications specialist, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org

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