National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson today urged members of Congress to vote against recent legislation passed in the House Agriculture Committee that would repeal portions of Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), citing possible food safety issues, the bill’s overreach, and denial of consumers’ basic right to know about where their food comes from.
“The House Agriculture Committee has succumbed to lobbying and scare tactics from foreign governments and multinational meatpackers and inserted itself prematurely into the WTO process by voting for a bill to repeal COOL,” said Johnson. “This bill allows for unlabeled Chinese chicken to be imported into the U.S., extends well beyond the scope of the WTO dispute, and strips consumers of information they want. NFU urges Congress to vote against the COOL repeal bill and allow the ongoing WTO process to play out.”
Johnson noted in a letter to the House Agriculture Committee that repealing chicken as one of the covered commodities for COOL is setting the stage for allowing unlabeled chicken from China into the U.S. China has sought approval to export frozen, chilled and raw chicken to the U.S.
“China can already export processed chicken to the U.S. as long as the chickens were slaughtered in an approved country, like the U.S., Chile, or Israel and shipped to China for further processing,” said Johnson. “But China is also seeking approval to export its own chickens to the U.S. Today, those products would bear a ‘born, raised, slaughtered in China’ under the mandatory country of origin labeling.”
Johnson noted that China’s food safety oversight is notoriously lax. The U.S. has imported rice gluten and milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine from China, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a long-standing investigation into pet deaths attributed to pet treats from China.
“China, in the not too distant past, has had infant formula adulterated with melamine that killed six infants, and toxic pet food that killed thousands of animals,” said Johnson. “If H.R. 2393 passes, consumers will be unable to vote with their pocketbook and avoid Chinese chicken if and when the USDA approves the importation of fresh, chilled, or frozen chicken from China.”
Johnson also noted that the committee-passed bill went well beyond the bounds of the WTO dispute by including chicken, ground beef and ground pork, three products with labels never deemed out of compliance with WTO obligations.
“The WTO explicitly stated that COOL on ground meat was WTO-compliant,” said Johnson. “Chicken was never a part of the WTO dispute. This was a telling action by the House Agriculture Committee to repeal WTO-compliant labels due to the personal opposition of a few members of Congress of the law.”
Johnson noted that the House Agriculture Committee inserted itself prematurely and extensively into the WTO process and many members of Congress admitted it was in response to the threats of retaliation.
“Despite the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) ruling on Monday, May 18, Canada and Mexico are not yet authorized to retaliate,” said Johnson. “The arbitration process will begin in the next month and continue on for another couple of months, at the very least. NFU strongly encourages Congress to vote against H.R. 2393 and allow the ongoing WTO process to continue.”
National Farmers Union has been working since 1902 to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.