Wee life stories documenting the globetrotting lives of pigs, cows, and chickens raised for slaughter will soon be posted on packages of meat sold in the U.S.
But the new miniature memoirs — such as “Born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States” — have outraged Canadian agricultural officials. They’re mulling a trade war, because the labels will help American grocery shoppers “discriminate” against Canadian-born poultry, swine, and cattle.
Large retailers are also oinking in angry disapproval, saying the labeling rule will be an expensive hassle for them.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture directed retailers to put country of origin labels on many types of food, including meat, fruit, and vegetables. That additional information triggered a decline in meat imports from Canada and Mexico, as shoppers opted to buy more American-reared protein. Canada and Mexico complained about the rule to the World Trade Organization, saying the labels were discriminatory, and the WTO ruled in their favor, giving the U.S. until Thursday to update its labeling regulations.
On Thursday, the USDA issued its new rules. To the dismay of the Canadians, the new rules require more detailed labels to be put on meat. They also put an end to the sale of packages containing meat from animals that were born or raised in different countries. The rules take effect immediately, but the USDA is offering retailers a six-month grace period before enforcement begins.
Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the changes are disappointing, and don’t comply with WTO rules.
Ritz said one of Canada’s options under consideration is asking the WTO to approve retaliation against U.S. products, but he would not say which products Canada would most likely target. In the past, he has said Canada would likely aim at more goods than just U.S. meat.
“We have no intention of backing off or backing down, if the Americans think this is a game of chicken,” Ritz said. “We will do everything within our power to make sure they understand that both Canadian industry as well as American industry (are) totally rejecting what they came forward with today.”
COOL [country of origin labeling rules] was backed by U.S. consumer groups and some U.S. farm groups. It was opposed by trade groups representing U.S. cattle and hog producers and foodmakers.
“People have the right to know where the food they feed their families comes from,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch.
Yo, Canadian officials and WTO peeps: “Discrimination” is a lousy word and you know it. It’s not that Americans are hating on your swine. It’s just that the international livestock trade and the long-distance hauling of meat are both unnecessary and bad for the climate.