DeLauro: People deserve to know where their food comes from

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro who represents a part of Shelton, spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives in opposition to legislation that would deny consumers information about the origin of their meat and poultry.

DeLauro, a Democrat in her 13th term, is a member of the subcommittee responsible for funding the Department of Agriculture, Her remarks as delivered are below and can be viewed here.
“Let me first point out the irony that we are considering this bill what could be a matter of days before we will vote on the administration’s request for Trade Promotion Authority.

Last month, President Obama said in his speech at Nike: ‘Critics warn that parts of this deal [the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP] would undermine American regulation – food safety, worker safety, even financial regulations.  They’re making this stuff up. This is just not true. No trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.'

Country of Origin labeling was passed by the Senate, passed by the House; it is the law of the land. And yet today the House of Representatives is getting ready to repeal country of origin labeling.

Why? Because the World Trade Organization ruled against it. A trade agreement ruled against it. Contrary to what the president has said, trade agreements have a direct result on our sovereignty. They have the ability to uproot domestic laws here in the United States.

'No area of U.S. law is safe'

Members and the public need to know what we are opening ourselves up to when we sign these trade agreements. Literally no area of United States law is safe — food safety, drug safety, consumer protection, environmental protection, healthcare, labor rights, Dodd-Frank, even the minimum wage.

In fact today’s agreements, including the TPP, go further than the WTO ruling. They allow challenges to U.S. law not only by governments, but also by foreign and domestic multinational corporations who can circumvent U.S. courts and seek a remedy in an independent tribunal.

Today the casualty is Country of Origin Labeling. I was a conferee on the Farm Bill of 2008, with my colleague, the ranking member ,Mr. Peterson. I worked to expand country of origin labeling.

I have worked on this issue for many years as a member and former chair of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. I am proud of that record.

'Cornerstones of a free market'

People deserve to know where their food comes from. American farmers and ranchers deserve the opportunity to distinguish their products. It is an economic truism that complete and accurate information is one of the cornerstones of a free market.
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'Beware of a trade agreement that puts American sovereignty at risk.'

— U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro

More than a decade of polling data proves that American consumers consistently and overwhelmingly want country of origin labeling, and frequently by majorities of more than 90 percent.

The World Trade Organization itself has repeatedly ruled the provision of information to consumers to be a legitimate goal for domestic regulation. In light of that ruling, I agree that we should seek to protect American exporters by avoiding retaliatory sanctions.

Retaliation decision is uncertain

But that has not yet become necessary. It has been less than a week since Canada and Mexico filed their retaliatory tariff requests. The WTO Dispute Settlement Body will not consider it for another week. We do not know whether retaliation will be approved.

Canada and Mexico have asked for $3 billion, but they must prove that they have been harmed, and that could be difficult. A study by Dr. Robert Taylor of Auburn University found that, in the case of Canada, COOL had no significant negative impact on either imports of cattle or the price of imported cattle relative to domestic cattle.

Instead, Dr. Taylor concluded, the decrease in exports was likely the result of the global recession and a weak recovery.

Even if harm is found and retaliation is approved, it will probably not go into effect for several months.  There is plenty of time to look for a reasonable resolution, as we have done previously.

Don't compromise U.S. sovereignty

More than 60 other countries have mandatory labeling requirements. So it seems there is a scope to find an acceptable way forward without compromising U.S. sovereignty.
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It is much too early for outright repeal, but that is what this bill does. Indeed, it is unprecedented for Congress to intervene so early in the WTO process.

Moreover, this bill goes well beyond the scope of the WTO ruling. It would repeal country of origin labeling on chicken, which is not addressed in the ruling, and on ground beef and ground pork, which the tribunal explicitly found compliant. Why are we rushing to judgment on this issue?

Role of the meatpacking industry

I am forced to conclude that this bill is in fact a veiled attempt by the meatpacking industry to deny consumers their right to know where their meat and poultry is coming from. Is it coming from China? Is it coming from Australia? Is it coming from New Zealand? Where is it coming from?

Earlier this week, a broad coalition of 283 agricultural organizations wrote to Chairman Conaway and to Ranking Member Peterson urging them to reject the repeal of Country of Origin Labeling.

Farmers, rural advocates, faith groups, environmentalists, labor unions, farm workers, manufacturers, and consumer groups all oppose this ill-conceived and premature repeal. Why are we not listening to them?

Trade agreements do alter U.S. laws

As I mentioned at the outset, the context for this bill is the failure of U.S. trade policy. The administration tells us that trade agreements do not alter domestic laws. Clearly, this is false.

And I admonish my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Beware of the road that you go down today. Beware of a trade agreement that puts American sovereignty at risk.

I hope that members will bear that in mind and in that context as we vote on this bill today, and in addition today when we come to debate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and to grant fast track authority on that agreement. In the meantime, I urge my colleagues to oppose this bill.”