UPDATE: President Obama, as expected, signed the bill Friday. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement, "The omnibus bill repealed the country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements for muscle cuts of beef and pork, and ground beef and pork. Effective immediately, USDA is not enforcing the COOL requirements for muscle cut and ground beef and pork outlined in the January 2009 and May 2013 final rules."
According to the statement, the USDA is going to adjust the COOL regulations quickly and accordingly, and food safety of imported and domestic meat remains imperative.
UPDATE: The spending bill now passed the Senate.
UPDATE: The House has passed the bill. It's expected to pass in the Senate and for President Obama to sign later today.
- Congress introduced a provision that would repeal COOL as part of a spending bill required for the federal government to stay in operation. The text of the bill is available here. Congress hopes to stave off $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs recently authorized by WTO for Canada ($780.9 million) and Mexico ($227.8 million), who sought the repeal of COOL.
- The Grocery Manufacturers Association released a statement regarding the missed opportunity for GMO labeling legislation this year in the bill. EWG, on the other hand, applauded Congress' decision to not include GMO labeling in the spending bill. The bill does include a provision that addresses GMO salmon, saying the FDA "shall not allow the introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate comerce of any food that contains genetically engineered salmon until FDA publishes final labeling guidelines for informing consumers of such content."
- Politico's Morning Agriculture pointed out the bill's intent to soften the 2015 Dietary Guidelines influence. Politico also reported the dietary guidelines are now headed for a January release.
Tyson has said that the regulations needlessly complicate supply chains, and the North American Meat Institute CEO Barry Carpenter also requested that Congress repeal COOL to avoid the penalties sought by Canada and Mexico, which previously totaled $3 billion.
The House had already responded by passing a full repeal of COOL in June, but bills weren't moving forward fast enough in the Senate before WTO approved the retaliatory tariffs earlier this month.
Advocates of COOL have argued that such labeling could help consumers make better decisions regarding meat purchases, as consumers have requested in other types of labeling, such as GMOs and nutritional content. However, Canada and Mexico find this type of labeling discriminatory.
Regarding GMO labeling, GMA president and CEO Pamela G. Bailey said in a statement, "It is unfortunate that Congress has failed to take action this year to stop a patchwork of costly and misleading state labeling mandates, an issue of tremendous importance to consumers, farmers, food and beverage companies. In January, food manufacturers will face exponentially increasing costs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with Vermont’s GMO labeling mandate."
While the salmon provision is encouraging for GMO labeling advocates, even if the bill passes, it's too soon to say what a final label would look like. Between the industry's lobbying efforts and consumer concerns, GMO controversy will continue to swell into next year and beyond.