Where'd That Lil' Wiener Come From? WTO Says You Don't Need to Know

Sorry. Had to get your attention. And that's "wiener," as in hot dog / frankfurter, not "Weiner," as in…well, you know. I won't even go there. Besides, I'm way more worried about where wieners come from than where Weiner's going. And you should be, too. Yes, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., NY) is one mixed-up guy doing weird, creepy things. But have you heard about what the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been up to lately? Kind of dwarfs Congressman Weiner's, um, problem. Let me explain.

On May 26, 2011, a specially formed WTO panel met regarding a December, 2008, lawsuit filed against WTO member United States by fellow WTO members Canada and Mexico. The following countries are named as third parties in the dispute, lining up in support of Canada and Mexico: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, European Union, Guatemala, India, Korea, New Zealand, Peru, and Chinese Taipei.

At stake is the United States' duly passed law known as COOL: Country of Origin Labeling. Passed in 2002 (but not in effect until September, 2008), COOL amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to: "require retailers to notify their customers of the country of origin of beef (including veal), lamb, pork, chicken, goat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, perishable agricultural commodities, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts…the term perishable commodity means fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables."

Sounds good to me.

As an American consumer who wants to support my local (and nationwide) economy and know where the meats, fish, produce and other perishables my family eats are grown, COOL makes sense. Additionally, if there's a deadly E. coli outbreak, as Germany is currently experiencing, labeling would be crucially important. How else would any of us know if the foods in our refrigerators might be dangerous? In Germany thus far, 24 people have died, and more than 2,400 have been infected. According to the Associated Press, "hundreds are hospitalized with a serious complication that can lead to kidney failure. New cases are being reported every day--94 more in Germany on Tuesday."

Imagine an E. coli outbreak happening here. Imagine not being able to find out where your produce originated. Imagine the Centers for Disease Control issuing a health warning for, say, Mexican watermelon. And you have no idea if the watermelon you served at a BBQ to friends and family the day before came from Mexico or Chili or California's San Joaquin Valley. If the WTO sides with Canada and Mexico, successfully overturning COOL, that will be our reality. It's not that far fetched.

From Truth About Trade & Technology:

In particular, the [WTO] panel agreed with the complainants that COOL requirements resulted in imported beef and pork from Canada and Mexico being treated less favorably than U.S.-origin meat, in violation of WTO rules.

While the ruling is only preliminary, trade experts say WTO panels rarely alter their interim conclusions in the final ruling. The panel is expected to issue its final ruling to the parties by the middle of the year, with WTO making the ruling public sometime in September. The U.S. will then have 60 days to decide whether to appeal the panel’s findings.

Should the WTO ruling, as anticipated, become final, trade experts here believe the U.S. would file an appeal. And--unbelievable as this sounds--some say in order to keep COOL in place, the United States may agree, as a compromise, to financially compensate those countries who believe our Made in U.S.A. products unfairly outsell theirs. I would heave an exasperated sigh here, but instead I'll write my congressman / woman. Our elected officials must go to bat for us with this issue. We need COOL and we shouldn't have to pay off skittish WTO member countries for the privilege. If our products are more desirable than theirs, I say hip, hip hooray. That's good news.

Problem is, not everyone in this country wants the same outcome. More news from Truth About Trade & Technology:

Reaction to the [WTO] report has been fairly predictable. R-CALF USA says it is “tremendously disappointed” in the decision, and urged Congress to reject the ruling from what R-CALF calls “an un-elected, foreign tribunal that is attempting to strike down our constitutionally passed law.”

Meanwhile, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says the preliminary ruling reinforces what the group has stated all along—“COOL was a bad idea from the beginning and the preliminary WTO ruling...is proof."

Gee thanks, National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Guess I'd better pound out a letter to you all, too. At minimum, Don / Richie C and I are having grilled filet of salmon smothered with fresh dill for dinner instead of steak. Take that, NCBA.

Oh and by the way, since wieners fall (so to speak) into the processed foods category, they're outside COOL's jurisdiction. But if the wieners are imported, they're required to have a country of origin label on them anyway due to CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) regulations. So no worries. The government's got your wiener covered. Wish I could say the same for a certain Twitter-crazy New York congressman.