“COOL has proven to not be so cool after all.” These were the words of one of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) students at a recent seminar I attended in Trenton.

“COOL has proven to not be so cool after all.” These were the words of one of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) students at a recent seminar I attended in Trenton.

The Missouri Corn Association sponsored the learning event that brought together a group of FFA students from across the state. These youth, who will be high school seniors, learned about issues facing agriculture.

The group of students I worked with discussed issues surrounding the country of origin labeling, better known as the COOL law. They realized that COOL is a national topic of concern that may significantly impact every state, including Missouri. Although other commodities are involved to a lesser degree, the main concerns always have been fresh beef, pork and lamb.

This summer, Congress and the Obama administration could decide the ultimate fate of the U.S. COOL law.

COOL was passed in the 2002 Farm Bill under Title X of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act. Five years later, in the 2007 Farm Bill, COOL was expanded, becoming mandatory in 2008, with enforcement to begin in 2009. With its enforcement, COOL became a law that required all beef and pork products sold in retail stores to be labeled to show where the animal was born, raised and harvested.

The original intent of the law was good; however, it simply became another government mandate with little to no effect on food safety. In the time period that COOL has been in effect, farmers and ranchers have seen no significant benefit from it. In fact, the USDA has estimated that the COOL law cost the U.S. beef industry approximately $8 billion during this time.  Perhaps more importantly, studies show that consumers really don’t factor in the country of origin when purchasing meat products.

From the beginning, COOL laws have been a source of contention with the U.S.’s two largest trading partners: Canada and Mexico. Both believe that the U.S. country of origin labeling of meat is discriminatory to their products and implies that theirs is inferior to the U.S.-grown product. Consequently, they have taken this issue to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to present their case.

In 2011, the WTO found that the mandatory COOL law violated international trade obligations with Canada and Mexico by discriminating against livestock from those nations. The U.S. government appealed the decision, only to have the WTO again rule in favor of Canada and Mexico.

In 2014, the USDA updated the COOL rules in an attempt to bring the United States into compliance with WTO. That was unsuccessful and again was rejected by WTO.

In turn, this opened the door for retaliation from Canada and Mexico by placement of tariffs on U.S. products coming into their countries — not just meat products, but other products, as well. Last month, Canada, in retaliation, set $3 billion of tariffs as the amount in response to the meat labeling rule. Mexico has not set any figures of retaliation, but under the WTO, they would have the ability to do so.

The WTO is the only global international organization that deals with the rules of trade between nations. It meets in Geneva, where about 160 members oversee 95 percent of world trade. Agreements, associations and negotiations between trading partners are under the oversight of the organization, whose main function is to ensure that world trade flows as smoothly and freely as possible.

It is important that the U.S. comply with this international trade organization. Non-compliance with the WTO on the COOL laws possibly could have a devastating economic impact on U.S. industries of food production, agriculture and manufacturing. The possibility of tariff retaliation from Mexico and Canada potentially could have a major economic impact on Missouri.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted 300 to 131 in June to repeal the COOL laws. The Senate has heard the bill in committee and is expected to vote on the measure soon. The Obama administration will make its decision on the law if it passes both chambers.

Missouri’s congressional delegation voted 7-1 to repeal. Many are encouraging our state’s two senators to follow suit.

The COOL law started out with good intentions for consumers and producers, but it has lost its appeal and has major world trade problems. The only real solution to this dilemma is to repeal it.

 Bill Reiboldt represents the people of Southwest Missouri in the Missouri House of Representatives.