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Mystery Meat: After WTO Ruling, U.S. Tosses Meat Origin Labeling Law, Leaving Consumers in the Dark

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As TransCanada files a NAFTA claim for $15 billion against the U.S. government over the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, we turn to another case in which massive trade agreements have infringed on the U.S. government’s ability to pass legislation. In December, Congress passed a spending bill that included a repeal of a law requiring meat to be labeled with its country of origin. The repeal of the legislation came after the World Trade Organization threatened to impose billion-dollar sanctions against the United States, saying the label law violated trade deals. According to Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, this type of infringement is just the beginning if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is approved.

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StoryJul 31, 2008Raj Patel on the Collapse of the World Trade Organization Talks
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Since we’ve last talked, the WTO issued a major decision around meat. Can you explain its significance and how it fits into the story?

LORI WALLACH: So, that’s what I was mentioning before. So, you know, everyone go—you go to the grocery store, if you’re a meat eater, and you pick up the package, and it says where the meat was born, raised and processed. And that is a huge fight. It took 50 years for us consumer groups to actually get mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat. And that was enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill. So, we’ve all been using that. It also is very helpful, because you know if there’s been a food safety outbreak someplace, you know don’t buy from there. It also helps with tracing, because if, for instance, hamburger is mixed from 50 different countries, you’d have to list all the countries, so it creates an incentive to actually know where the meat comes from, as well as gives us consumers the information to make informed choices.

The World Trade Organization recently issued a final ruling saying, unless we ixnay that law, we were going to face billions in trade sanctions. And the history of this is, the U.S. meatpacking industry, plus their Canadian and Mexican counterparts, didn’t want this law. And they tried in federal court. They tried to fight us in Congress. It only took 50 years, we finally won. The law becomes the law of the land. And the polling shows 90 percent of Americans love that law. Well, when they couldn’t win in the democratic process of our courts, of our Congress, these interests went to a trade tribunal. Mexico and Canada challenged the law at the WTO in one of the trade tribunals, saying this violates the U.S. obligations at the WTO. And the tribunal, one tribunal after another after an appellate one, they said yes. The U.S. government even changed the law to address the technical errors that the WTO tribunal pointed out. And again, we lost the appeal. So, basically, Canada and Mexico, at the end, were in a position, because this is how it works, to say to the U.S., “Either kill the law or pay $2 billion in trade sanctions every year”—every year—for the right of knowing where our meat comes from. And the Congress said, “Oh, oh, my god, trade war. Let’s avoid the sanctions.” And they gutted the law. So, if you go to the grocery store now, you’re going to notice that’s gone.

That is a real, live example of our day-to-day lives—not about jobs, but our day-to-day food, the environment—being undermined by these agreements. And if TPP is allowed to go through, imagine that on steroids. We have the ability to stop TPP by getting our representatives now, in this election year coming up, when they’re most sensitive, to commit to voting no. But it’s on us, because in our country is where it can be stopped. And we can do this. It’s already—there are a lot of members of Congress who don’t like the agreement. But using this TransCanada case, using the meat example, those are real ways we can help educate our neighbors, our friends, about what the risk is. Everyone knows TPP means more job offshoring and lower wages, but it’s more than that. That’s terrible, and it’s all these other things, too. And if we educate people and aim them at our members of the House of Representatives to get commitments to vote no, we can avoid doubling down on this disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, I want to thank you for being with us, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the North Korean bomb test. What does it mean? And what does it mean for nuclear politics worldwide? Stay with us.

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