Learn more about our policy experts.

Media Contacts

Angela Bradbery, Director of Communications
w. (202) 588-7741
c. (202) 503-6768
abradbery@citizen.org, Twitter

Barbara Holzer, Broadcast Manager
w. (202) 588-7716
bholzer@citizen.org

Karilyn Gower, Press Officer
w. (202) 588-7779
kgower@citizen.org

Other Important Links

Press Release Database
Citizen Vox blog
Texas Vox blog
Consumer Law and Policy blog
Energy Vox blog
Eyes on Trade blog
Facebook/publiccitizen

Follow us on Twitter

 

June 29, 2012 

WTO Rules Against Yet Another U.S. Consumer Protection Policy

PDF

Final WTO Appeal Ruling Goes Against U.S. Country-of-Origin Meat Labeling Law that Applies to Domestic and Imported Meat

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) final ruling today against a highly popular U.S. consumer policy – the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat found in every grocery store – will only intensify public opposition to trade pacts, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a nine-nation pact now under negotiation that is slated to include anti-consumer rules similar to those in the WTO, Public Citizen said. Last week, U.S. officials agreed to allow Mexico and Canada to enter TPP negotiations despite failing to obtain a settlement in the WTO meat labeling case.

The WTO appellate ruling released today, which is final and not subject to further appeal, means that Mexico and Canada have succeeded in their WTO attack on the U.S. meat labeling policy. Under WTO rules, Mexico and Canada may soon be able to impose trade sanctions against the United States if it does not water down or eliminate the labels to comply with the WTO ruling. If the law is weakened, American families may not be able to know where there food is coming from, and health regulators may have a harder time tracking food borne bacteria to its point of origin. Public Citizen urged the administration not to weaken the law.

“Today’s ruling makes very clear that these so-called ‘trade’ pacts have little to do with trade between countries, but rather impose outrageous limits on the most basic consumer safety policies on which we all rely,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “The WTO announcing that big agribusiness corporations must be allowed to sell mystery meat here, despite U.S. consumers and Congress demanding these labels, is yet another example of outsourcing our legal system to international commercial bodies that push corporate interests.”

Earlier this month, leaked text from the TPP revealed that the agreement, if completed, would subject U.S. laws to challenges by private business interests before secretive foreign tribunals and authorize the payout of unlimited funds, in compensation to businesses, from the U.S. Treasury.  

Today’s decision narrowed the number of specific WTO provisions that the U.S. meat labeling policy was found to violate, but still reaffirmed the previous WTO ruling that the law must be altered or eliminated. This ruling follows WTO rulings this year against U.S. “dolphin-safe” tuna labels and a U.S. ban on clove-, candy- and cola-flavored cigarettes.

“These three rulings – with the WTO slapping down safe hamburgers, Flipper and children’s smoking prevention policy – make it increasingly clear to the public that the WTO is leading a race to the bottom in consumer protection,” said Todd Tucker, research director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

After 50 years of state efforts to institute country-of-origin labeling for meat cuts and products, and federal experimentation with voluntary COOL for meat, Congress passed a mandatory COOL program as part of the 2008 farm bill. In their successful WTO challenge, Mexico and Canada argued that the mandatory program violated the limits that the WTO sets on what sorts of product-related “technical regulations” WTO signatory countries are permitted to apply. In their filings to the WTO, Canada and Mexico suggested that the U.S. should drop its mandatory labels in favor of a return to voluntary COOL or to standards suggested by the Codex Alimentarius, an international food standards body in which numerous international food companies play a central role. Neither option would ensure that U.S. consumers are guaranteed the same level of information as the current U.S. labels. In an initial ruling in November 2011, the WTO sided with Mexico and Canada against the U.S. law, but the U.S. appealed the decision in January of this year.

The Obama administration is in the process of negotiating the secretive TPP trade deal, an expansive deal that expands on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which currently includes  11 Asian and Western Hemisphere countries. The pact is expected to include limits on domestic consumer safety and labeling policy.

“The only thing worse than NAFTA-on-steroids with any old country is NAFTA-on-steroids with NAFTA countries,” said Wallach. “What’s worse, the administration appears to have abandoned its leverage and greenlit Mexico and Canada joining the TPP without an agreement to drop their WTO attack on consumer labels. The American public is desperately waiting for President Barack Obama to show some negotiating savvy, and to start fulfilling his campaign pledges and reconsider the so-called ‘trade’ model that his administration is pushing with the TPP.”

###

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit public interest organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org

Copyright © 2014 Public Citizen. Some rights reserved. Non-commercial use of text and images in which Public Citizen holds the copyright is permitted, with attribution, under the terms and conditions of a Creative Commons License. This Web site is shared by Public Citizen Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation. Learn More about the distinction between these two components of Public Citizen.


Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation

 

Together, two separate corporate entities called Public Citizen, Inc. and Public Citizen Foundation, Inc., form Public Citizen. Both entities are part of the same overall organization, and this Web site refers to the two organizations collectively as Public Citizen.

Although the work of the two components overlaps, some activities are done by one component and not the other. The primary distinction is with respect to lobbying activity. Public Citizen, Inc., an IRS § 501(c)(4) entity, lobbies Congress to advance Public Citizen’s mission of protecting public health and safety, advancing government transparency, and urging corporate accountability. Public Citizen Foundation, however, is an IRS § 501(c)(3) organization. Accordingly, its ability to engage in lobbying is limited by federal law, but it may receive donations that are tax-deductible by the contributor. Public Citizen Inc. does most of the lobbying activity discussed on the Public Citizen Web site. Public Citizen Foundation performs most of the litigation and education activities discussed on the Web site.

You may make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., Public Citizen Foundation, or both. Contributions to both organizations are used to support our public interest work. However, each Public Citizen component will use only the funds contributed directly to it to carry out the activities it conducts as part of Public Citizen’s mission. Only gifts to the Foundation are tax-deductible. Individuals who want to join Public Citizen should make a contribution to Public Citizen, Inc., which will not be tax deductible.

 

To become a member of Public Citizen, click here.
To become a member and make an additional tax-deductible donation to Public Citizen Foundation, click here.