US Appeals WTO Ruling Against National Meat Labels – NYTimes November 28, 2014
If you knew all the facts in this case, it would cause your blood to boil. However, if you read the story in the newspaper you would probably have ignored it. Below is the story that some of you may have heard briefly, but it is one of the biggest ever battles between the World Trade Organization (WTO) versus the United States. This is a case of multi-national corporations (which control the WTO) trying to over-rule common sense food safety measures meant to protect U.S. citizens. First, read the very lame story from the major media centers which is meant to bore and misinform the public. At the end of the story, I will give you the background of the story and who the real players are (they are not Mexican and Canadian ranchers).
The News Story: US Appeals WTO Ruling Against National Meat Labels (Associate Press)
WASHINGTON — The United States is appealing a World Trade Organization decision that would make it harder for U.S. consumers to know where meat in the grocery store came from.
The WTO in October rejected U.S. rules requiring labels on packaged steaks, ribs and other cuts of meat identifying where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered. The WTO said the “country of origin labeling” requirements put Canadian and Mexican livestock at a disadvantage.
On Friday, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative appealed the ruling.
U.S. farmers who compete with Mexican and Canadian ranchers welcomed the appeal. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson on Friday called it “the right thing to do for American family farmers, ranchers and consumers.” But meatpackers oppose the labeling requirements, saying they impose costly paperwork.
Originally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed the labels to say simply “Product of U.S.” or “Product of U.S. and Canada.” The WTO rejected that approach in 2012.
So USDA made the labels more specific in an attempt to win WTO approval. For example, they can say the animal that produced the meat was “born in Mexico, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.” But in October, the WTO also rejected the revised rules.
The Background of the Story of Labeling Meats
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), under pressure from concerned citizens (like you and me) wanted more transparency in how our food is handled and started to pass regulations to improve this objective. Obviously, the US has a long way to go in this respect, like did you know that it is illegal to film activity at a slaughterhouse? Reporting about conditions at slaughterhouses or chicken processing plants will get you in the same place that a Chinese citizen gets when complaining about their Communist government. Be that as it may, people from America do trust food more if it is grown and/or processed in the United States. The law written in 2008, was called the Country of Origin Law (COOL). Meat had to be labelled if it was a Product of the USA, versus product of Canada or China or anywhere else. Common sense labeling right? No problem right?
Not so fast. In an unfathomable decision, the World Trade Organization said that this law was discriminatory to other nations. The WTO said this is initially in 2011, and then re-affirmed their decision on July 23, 2012.
Rewriting C.O.O.L. and allowing China to process American chickens
So, the USDA went back to the drawing board and re-wrote the COOL requirements. This rule reads: muscle cut meats require labels to specify in sequence, the country where a source animal was born, the country where it was raised, and the country where it was slaughtered. (If you noticed, it does not specify in which country where the meat is processed – in 2013, the USDA allowed China to process U.S. chickens without the need for labeling. Ref.:1,2,3,4,5,6). This is a big story in itself.
The new COOL requirement took effect on May 23, 2013. Almost immediately, a lawsuit was filed by the American Meat Institute (Ref. 7) and the American Meat Institute and eight other plaintiffs (Ref. 8) against the USDA on July 25, 2013 and July 8, 2013, respectively.
One incidental note: The American Meat Institute just this year 2015 has merged with another organization called NAMA – the North American Meat Association to form The North American Meat Institute (NAMI). So, it is even bigger now.
This suit from the American Meat Institute was initially defeated within the U.S. in the DC District Court on March 28, 2014 (Ref. 9). However, the World Trade Organization once again ruled in favor of the American Meat Institute to overturn the labeling requirement on October 20,2014. (Ref. 10). When the WTO overruled the USDA, Big AG was extremely happy and tried to sway the U.S. government into not appealing. But the U.S. did appeal – see the top story. So, here we are at the crossroads, are we supporting common sense food safety legislation which has made rules for the safety of our citizens or do we support the big-moneyed WTO? The WTO which would rather strip all laws from every country because it has a vested interest in trying to get all food processed in third world countries with absolutely minimal oversight or safety requirements? (I mean we already do this with textiles [clothes] and hard goods [everything else not food]. The question becomes what is the most important thing in the world? Is it safety with common sense food safety laws or is it about solely making more money for the largest corporations while decreasing our standards in the process?)
The Real Players
If you read the press releases that are spouted of as news, you would think that the ones filing the lawsuit are the small ranchers in Mexico and Canada. Just for the sake of argument, say you are a Canadian rancher, and your beef is labelled as being “Born, Raised and Slaughtered in Canada.” Canada has even higher standards than the United States. How in the hell would that be a detriment to Canadian raised beef?! It would be like if you made clothing in Italy, would your brand be cheapened by labeling it “Made in Italy”?
In the AP news – repeated in 100 different newspapers, word for word, there is not one mention of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI nor AMI) who filed the suit. The North American Meat Institute is Big AG incarnate. NAMI represents 95% of all red meat and 70% of all turkey processing. On the NAMI Board of Directors (Ref.11) is Hormel; Tyson Chicken, which has processing plants in China, India, Brazil and, there it is, Mexico (Ref. 12); Cargill Meats; Butterball; JBS; and Smithfield Foods who has just been bought by a Chinese company (Ref. 13). Now do you believe that allowing the Chinese to process chicken for Americans to eat and not even have that detail labelled is just a coincidence? Of course not, somebody in the USDA got paid off with a nice little gift. This big money American system that runs our entire country is truly corrupt. Americans, however, don’t recognize this, unlike the outsiders that wonder why Americans don’t recognize this widespread corruption and just revolt.
Who Are The Fake Players?
The small Canadian and Mexican ranchers are supposedly the ones being hurt. Now let us be serious, since when in the world has the WTO ever cared or ever ruled in favor of a very small company? Never. They would never get the time of day with the WTO. The reason, small companies don’t have any weight with the WTO, is they lack money and/or influence. Also, the small companies are not taken seriously by the WTO because they are directly competing against the giant corporations that are part of the WTO. To file a suit with the WTO, you need big money and lots of power. So to mention these fake players is really moot. But, in this particular suit, there is a listing of 8 different plaintiffs which are meat processing and packing trade groups , but with them is the “Goliath”, the American Meat Institute (AMI) now called NAMI. Let us look at a couple of the companies named in the lawsuit and how they are supposedly affected.
The fake players are three small companies within the 8 meat processing and packing trade groups who are part of the lawsuit that have sued the USDA to not label meat. Because of their quirky business practices, they were pulled out as examples of how Canada and Mexico ranchers and processors could possibly be injured if meat were “labelled”. 99.99% of the meat represented by the plaintiffs of the lawsuit is all-American, it doesn’t make sense that these fake players who make-up 0.01% should get any say in these court cases.
First, let us look at BK Pork. BK Pork is a member of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) Iowa affiliate (close ally of NAMI and the actual plaintiff). Supposedly from COOL regulations, BK Pork would have to stop raising Canadian Pigs in their home state of Iowa. (For those of you who don’t know U.S. geography, Iowa is not right next to Canada. Plus, I don’t see the sense in why they import cows all the way from Canada). The WTO really cares about this issue?
Second, there is Alpha 3 Cattle Company. Alpha 3 Cattle Co is a member of the National Cattlemens Beef Association (NCBA) -the plaintiff and close friend of NAMI. It is a feedyard in Texas that imports 38,000 head of Mexican cattle per year. This is NAMI’s only connection with Mexico that is not Tyson, that is the sole reason they are included in the lawsuit. They are extremely small potatoes, and there are not many American companies that import Mexican cattle. If we dig deeper, we could probably find the reason why this company really exists.
Third is Agri-beef. This is a ranch in Idaho and that processes its beef in Washington. It is a member of the North American Meat Association (NAMA, previously the National Meat Association [NMA]). NAMA is the plaintiff (as mentioned, before NAMA merged with AMI and now is the supercolossus NAMI). In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say “Because Washington is a ‘cattle-deficient’ state, Agri-Beef relies heavily on cattle imported from Canada during particular times of the year.” Wait a minute, the ranch is in Idaho, which is not cattle deficient, and not raised in Washington. I am sure this company could get a waiver from the USDA for having their cattle in the US for a month. Like I said previously, raised in Canada is “thumbs up” – there is absolutely no downside in labeling it that way.
Evaluating the Lawsuit
When you see the voluminous lawsuit, you think they might have a case. But when you read around the baloney and do your due diligence which clearly the World Trade Organization did not do, you can see this decision smells as bad as Harris Ranch. Some of their arguments are ridiculous like this one in showing damages (on page 48 of the lawsuit Ref. 14): “RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co, vs FDA 823 F Supp.2d 36 50-51 (D.D.C 2011) finding “more than a sufficient showing of irreparable harm in tobacco companies First Amendment challenge to graphic warning requirement.” That is your argument that “Made in Canada” is a bad as skull and cross bones on cigarette packages?!!. Please!
And then you realize, there is no Canada or Mexico involved in this lawsuit at all. It is Big U.S. Ag and company. Strip away the B.S. and you can see this is just a plain old powerplay (only about money and power). The big question is this: why should we listen to the WTO, an international organization over a totally LOCAL issue? Get your over-reaching hands out of our business.
The U.S. consumer needs to support the USDA in their appeal and its labeling requirements against Big Ag. The reason why Big Ag is against labeling, is more than just money, which is really not very significant in their multi-billion dollar industry, but it is their plans to process all meat internationally in the near future. This means they need the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty (TPP – the secret Free Trade agreement like NAFTA) to pass and eliminate all labeling with the help of their lackey – the WTO – the destructive organization which has made higher standards obsolete. The WTO’s ultimate goal is to bring the U.S. down to the same extremely low standards as the least civilized of nations (called the least common denominator argument). Big Ag’s ultimate goal is to create meat products from all different types of meat, from all different cuts and from all different countries without being labelled. The American Meat Institute doesn’t want to let you know if you are eating beef, rat, dog or horse. (Ref 15). Or worse -remember the movie Soylent Green (Ref 16) – now that didn’t need to be labelled.
Stop the corporate power grab. Stop the WTO from repealing country of origin labeling (C.O.O.L.) and stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal. The WTO is anti-COOL.
1. Chinese Chicken Processors Are Cleared to Ship to U.S. NY Times 8/30/13.
2. Chicken Processed in China Triggers U.S. Food Safety Protests. Bloomberg News 9/26/13.
3. The Curious Case of the Chinese Chicken Import-Export Business. Newsweek 9/25/14. Who lobbied for this law? Tyson, National Cattleman’s Beef Association, Pilgrim, and JBS.
4. Chicken From China? Why You Should Be Worried. Huffington Post 3/14/15
5. China Sneaks Its Chicken in on Man’s Best Friend, Food and Water Watch. Tony Corbo 7/27/12.
7. Lawsuit: American Meat Institute, et al v. United States Department of Agriculture. The actual lawsuit, 55 pages, filed 7/25/13.
8. Lawsuit: American Meat Institute and eight other plaintiffs v. USDA. 23 pages. filed 7/08/13.
9. DC Circuit Court Rejects Challenge to rule of Origin Labels on Meats. The Hill 3/28/14.
12. Tyson Chicken Portfolio. Page 19 shows its International holdings and factories.
13. Smithfield Foods Closes Sale to China’s Shuanghui. Richmond Times-Dispatch 9/27/13.
14. Lawsuit, page 48.
15. Slaughterhouse Boss Admits Charges Over U.K. Horsemeat Scandal. The Guardian 2015
16. Soylent Green 1973 futuristic movie based in the year 2022. Overrcrowding and the greenhouse effect have caused food shortages. Soylent Green is the new food that helps alleviate the problem until at the end that this is made from humans.
For additional reading reference check out: Country of Origin Labeling Revisited: Processed Chicken from China and the USDA Processed Foods Exception. Minn. J. L. Sci. & Tech. 28 pages of background and the politics of the exception to allow China to process chicken without having to label it.