In 2015, the United States lost a case before the World Trade Organization (WTO) worth over a billion dollars. Facing the threat of sanctions from Canada and Mexico, Congress acted quickly to repeal the offending measure, which required country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products. Specifically, the law required retailers to label products with information on where animals were born, raised, and slaughtered. The WTO Appellate Body reasoned that the costs of complying with COOL, potential labeling inaccuracies, and the law's exemptions for restaurants and smaller stores, made COOL an illegal trade barrier. While the Appellate Body recognized that delivering information to consumers about the origin of meat is a legitimate objective, it did not indicate what, if any, alternative labeling regulation might lawfully promote that objective. This article offers a critical examination of the Appellate Body's analysis, presenting the evidence in support of COOL as a consumer protection measure, and contrasting the WTO decision with that of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected statutory and constitutional challenges to COOL based on similar claims about its costs and value to consumers. The article concludes that COOL exemplifies how trade liberalization agreements can undermine public interest regulation, and that any renegotiation of U.S. trade commitments should seek to accommodate a reinstatement of the law.
The High Price of Free Trade: Country-of-Origin Labeling and the World Trade Organization,
Loy. Consumer L. Rev.
Available at: https://lawecommons.luc.edu/lclr/vol29/iss2/3