WTO Says U.S. Consumers Don't Need to Know Where Meat Comes From
This week, the World Trade Organization (WTO) finally issued a decision in the challenge made by Mexico and Canada to the U.S.'s country-of-origin (COOL) labeling rules for meat. And environmental and food safety groups are hopping mad, as WTO upheld the contention made by those countries, supported by multi0national meat packers, that the rules unfairly impede global trade.
“The meatpacking lobby has lost the COOL debate from the court of public opinion to the Court of Appeals to the halls of Congress so they are taking their complaint to the faceless unelected bureaucrats in Geneva,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “When the meat cannot get its way here in America, it is trying to use the WTO to overturn the will of the American people.”
The current U.S. rules, which went into effect in 2013, require that meat sold in groceries be labeled to show separately where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The WTO's ruling agrees that those regulations unfairly discriminate against imported meat to give an unfair edge to domestic products. In the ongoing dispute, then-Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack suggested last November that WTO should resolve the dispute and that the U.S. would abide by what the WTO decided.
Meat packers insists that the labeling rules have cost them profits, and the Canadian government threatened to put a tariff on U.S. meats and other food products imported from the U.S. The North American Meat Association and the American Meat Institute hailed the decision. But Food & Water Watch said that consumers deserved to know where their meat came from.
“People have the right to know where the food they feed their families comes from," said Hauter. "It is nonsensical that a label that lets consumers know the origin of their food is a trade barrier."
At a telephone press conference yesterday, Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, and Danni Beer, president of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, joined Food & Water Watch's Patrick Goodall and Lori Wallach from Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, emphasizing the divide between meat producers and multinational meat packers who may blend meat from different countries, the latter claiming—much as opponents of GMO labeling do—that providing information to consumers is an onerous, unsustainable expense.
Johnson pointed out that meat packers tried to have the COOL labeling regulations stripped during the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill debate making such claims but failed to do so, while Beer said, "We don't think keeping track of the country of origin through the process is that costly. We just want our consumers to have full information and let the free market system work."
Wallach suggested that the overestimate of costs and other inaccurate facts in the ruling, provided by the meatpacking industry, provide grounds for a legal appeal. The U.S. Trade Representatives office has said that is one of the options on the table.
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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