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U.S. Meat Labels to Detail Animal’s Origin; Canada, Mexico Raise Concern

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New rules for U.S. meatpackers will require labeling that tells consumers where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

Sounds simple.

But the regulations, posted Friday by the Department of Agriculture, are the latest move in a trade dispute that has pitted U.S. consumer groups, which favor the labels, against free-trade advocates, who say the regulations are biased against cattle and pork from Canada and Mexico.

Nor are the regulations likely to be the last word in the international controversy, which seems destined to wind up - again - before the World Trade Organization, which has previously ruled that U.S. labeling regulations discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock.

The dispute over meat labeling is one of a handful in recent years in which U.S. efforts to regulate food and other products have been rejected by the WTO. The WTO has ruled against U.S. "dolphin-safe" tuna labels and weighed in as well against a ban on clove-flavored cigarettes.

"The big lesson for American consumers is that the WTO has invaded aspects of our lives that have nothing to do with trade," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's group on trade issues. "They have come to your dinner table. Depending on what the WTO does, either consumers will be provided with important information, or the U.S. may face trade sanctions."    

The dispute over meat labeling promises to continue.

While U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the new rules on meat labeling will bring the United States "into compliance" with trade obligations, Canada disagrees and Mexico has already complained about the regulations.

"Canada is extremely disappointed with the regulatory changes put forward by the United States," according to a statement from the Canadian trade and agriculture ministers, Ed Fast and Gerry Ritz. "These changes will increase discrimination against Canadian cattle and hogs and increase damages to industry on both sides of the border."

"Mexico regrets that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has chosen to propose amendments to the regulations that would exacerbate the adverse impact [of the labeling program] on bilateral trade," Mexican trade and agriculture ministers Kenneth Smith Ramos and Carlos Vazquez Ochoa wrote.    
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