Canadian Meat Producers Protest U.S. Label Law

Beef and pork producers want the Canadian government to launch a trade challenge against the U.S. over a new law that requires country-of-origin labeling for fresh meat.

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) -- Beef and pork producers want the Canadian government to launch a trade challenge against the United States over a new law that requires retailers to provide country-of-origin labeling for fresh meat, saying that the regulation is shutting their livestock out of American markets.

Since the Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) law went into effect on Oct. 1, a growing number of meat plants in the U.S. are refusing to accept Canadian cattle and hogs for processing, the Canadian Cattlemen's Association said Sunday.

Under country of origin labeling, Canadian cattle and pigs must be segregated in U.S. feedlots and packing plants, prompting some firms to only deal with American livestock. Canadian animals are also required to have more documentation about where they came from, and in the case of cattle, the animals must have tags that indicate they are free of mad cow disease.

Such measures cut into already narrow profit margins, said the cattle association.

The Canadian Pork Council said U.S. hog processing companies, such as Smithfield and Hormel, have already indicated they will no longer purchase hogs born outside of the states. Other U.S. processors have said they will only buy Canadian pigs on certain days at selected plants.

The cattlemen's association said some corporations, including Tyson, are already refusing Canadian cattle and that others such as Cargill may only slaughter Canadian cattle on certain days.

"Conditions for Canadian producers deteriorate each day," Jurgen Preugschas, president of the pork council, wrote in a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging the federal government to take quick action.

"We are saying get it started right away because there is an opportunity when the new U.S. administration comes in for this thing to get worse. We want that shot across the bow right now to head it off," said John Masswohl of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association and the Canadian Pork Council are calling on the Canadian government to challenge the U.S. law under the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization rules.

The president of the cattle council, Brad Wildeman, warns that failure to get the law repealed will drive some Canadian producers out of business, reduce livestock herds and cost the two industries an estimated $661,376 a year.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz could not be reached for comment.

Department officials would not comment directly on the call by producers for Canada to launch a trade challenge, other than to say that the federal government is working to mitigate the law's impact.

The law is called an interim final rule. The challenge is to ensure that the final rule will keep trade distortions to a minimum, said Steve Lavergne, Agriculture Canada's director of bilateral relations for the Americas.

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