OTTAWA -- Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says he has growing confidence the U.S. will back off on country-of-origin labelling regulations on beef and pork, but Canada is prepared to retaliate if they don't.
The minister and his provincial counterparts from Manitoba and Alberta were in Chicago Monday speaking to the North American Meat Association in opposition to the U.S. law known as COOL, which Ritz said costs Canadian producers $1 billion annually.
Last month, Tyson Foods Inc. announced it stopped buying slaughtered cattle from Canada because of the high costs associated with COOL, including the need for specific product codes, production interruptions and sorting.
Ritz called the loss "devastating," adding it would become "catastrophic" for Canadian producers if other U.S. processors followed suit.
But he said there is now a unique opportunity to fix the legislation so it does not discriminate against imports from Canada and Mexico through the U.S. farm bill that is before U.S. Congress.
He notes Canada has industry allies within the U.S., including the American Association of Meat Processors, along with other industry players, who have sought a court injunction in U.S. federal court against the implementation of the labelling requirements.
Ritz said 100 senators and congressmen have also signed on in support of the industry-led court action.
"That would have been unheard of a year ago," he said from Chicago. "So the ground has shifted, the tide has changed and we feel very confident we can move forward with this repeal of COOL through the farm bill."
In addition, Canada is proceeding with a World Trade Organization action seeking permission to retaliate against the U.S. Last summer, Ottawa prepared a list of 38 imports from the U.S. it is prepared to retaliate against if Washington doesn't change the COOL law.
-- The Canadian Press