NFU president urges support for voluntary COOL

MINNEAPOLIS — National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson outlined the top issues facing family farmers at the 74th convention of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

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National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson spoke at the Minnesota Farmers Union convention on Nov. 22.

MINNEAPOLIS — National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson outlined the top issues facing family farmers at the 74th convention of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

Country of Origin Labeling

Country of Origin Labeling is an issue Farmers Union has fought for for many decades, Johnson said. It was first included in the 2002 farm bill.

Two good reasons exist to support COOL, he said. First, consumers want to know more about their food and where it comes from. Second, farmers and ranchers are proud of what they do, and they like to label it as being produced in the United States.

In 2008, COOL requirements were expanded to include more food items. Writing of the rules to put COOL into effect were completed in the early years of the Obama administration, Johnson said.


Not long after the rules were written in 2009, Mexico and Canada filed a complaint saying COOL was not World Trade Organization compliant.

Packers argued the law violated their free speech right, saying they had the right to remain silent on the labels. Supporters won four court decisions on COOL, Johnson said, but they weren't as successful at the World Trade Organization.

In 2013, labels were changed to reflect a WTO ruling and Canada and Mexico again challenged the law, he said.

In May 2015, the World Trade Organization ruled for the fourth time that the mandatory COOL law violates international trade agreements, according to information from North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven's office. The WTO is undergoing an arbitration process to determine the level of retaliation that Canada and Mexico will be authorized to implement and is expected to be announced this month. Both countries say they intend to implement retaliatory tariffs should the U.S. fail to address the current COOL law. Canada has said it will seek more than $3 billion and Mexico will seek $650 million in retaliation.

The House acted quickly and repealed mandatory COOL. The Senate hasn't taken action yet.

The NFU board of directors made the difficult decision to support a voluntary label, Johnson said. Sixty-one other countries have voluntary COOL.

They are supporting the Hoeven-Stabenow Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling and Trade Enhancement Act of 2015 introduced in the Senate. This bill allows that product from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States be labeled as such and resolves the WTO dispute. If COOL is totally repealed and not replaced with the voluntary label, Johnson said products processed in the United States will likely be labeled as product of the United States. The origin of the product will not be denoted.

Several senators have signed on to the bill, including Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.


"A voluntary labeling program is a simple solution that will allow the United States to abide by its WTO obligations while giving producers the option to label their products," Grassley said in a press release. "It's an approach that Canada has also taken. In the end, Americans should be able to know where their meat comes from, with a label that has integrity based on a single definition of U.S. pork and beef, just like they know where their t-shirts come from."

"By introducing a voluntary country-of-origin labeling system, we're demonstrating a continued commitment to ensuring consumers have the chance to know where their food comes from," Klobuchar said in a press release. "With more than $75 billion in economic activity generated by Minnesota's agriculture industry, this legislation is also sending a critical message that we value our relationships with our export partners."

Johnson asked Minnesota Farmers Union members to write their senators and ask them to support the Hoeven-Stabenow bill.

Climate change

Eight years ago, both presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain supported cap and trade and there was a perception that something was going to get done, Johnson said. Since then, the country has taken a right turn and many leaders on the right don't believe in the science of climate change.

Farmers Union was the biggest aggregator of carbon credits in the United States before the voluntary market disappeared, he said. Agriculture has the opportunity to do a bunch of important things to sequester carbon and with the right incentives, the impact of climate change can be mitigated. One of those things is the RFS.

Renewable Fuels Standard

Johnson said he didn't expect this administration to back up and reverse course on the RFS, but that's what it has done. There's no demand to build new corn ethanol plants and the demand for second generation ethanol has gone away because no incentive exists to invest.



The United States has a history of increasing the trade deficit. The nation can't keep doing that forever, Johnson said. Trade policies have been subtracting from U.S. growth for 40 years and it's time to get a handle on it, he said. The trade deficit is a 3 percent drain on the Gross Domestic Product now. The reason for the deficit is currency manipulation.

Currency manipulation is the process governments use to decrease the value of their currency in relation to U.S. dollars. It makes their products less expensive on the world market.

Americans were told the last trade agreement with South Korea would add 70,000 jobs in the United States. Instead, the country lost 75,000 jobs and the deficit widened. Americans are being told the Trans-Pacific Partnership will fix the deficit.

Johnson urged caution.

The Japanese beef tariff is supposed to decline from 38.5 percent to 9 percent over 30 years under the TPP. Manipulating the currency will erase any additional advantage. No ability exists for the United States to take action against currency manipulation in the TPP, he said.

Minnesota Farmers Union members passed a special order of business opposing the TPP in part because it includes "no enforceable language to address currency manipulation, an effective maneuver used by our competitors to immediately tilt the playing field in their favor."

The special order also raises the issue of the trade deficit, concerns about dairy and sugar programs that could be negatively impacted and questions whether the agreement is good for the nation's beef producers. There is also unease about the broadness of the TPP: "The TPP includes language that is more aggressive than previous trade deals and provides broad new powers for other countries and foreign corporations to challenge U.S. food safety and food labeling measures."

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