U.S. On Verge Of “COOL” War

Those of us born before 1980 probably remember growing up the midst of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. The Cold War ended in 1991, however, the U.S. could find itself facing a trade war, this time with its North American neighbors.

On Monday, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled the U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) required on certain meat packaging discriminates against livestock from Canada and Mexico. The ruling could lead to retaliatory measures in the form of tariffs on U.S. imports.  Canada and Mexico have both indicated they intend to impose sanctions on U.S. exports as early as late summer.

The labeling law was originally introduced by Congress as part of the 2002 farm bill. The current rules require labels to state, for example, that the animal that produced the meat was “born in Mexico, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.”  Canada and Mexico argued that these labeling requirements caused the prices of their meats to drop because meatpackers don’t want to go through the hassle and expense of segregating imported animals. The WTO report supports this argument, claiming that U.S. regulations, which require meat producers to indicate on retail packaging where each animal was born, raised and slaughtered, give less favorable treatment to imported meat than domestic products.

As a result of the WTO ruling, Congress is now faced with a tough choice: amend or repeal the law, or suffer punitive tariffs on a range of goods. Any amendment needs to be narrowly tailored so that U.S. meat producers are not favored over imports. In 2013 while the dispute was working its way through the WTO, Congress amend the labeling rules, but the WTO stated in their report the amendment did not go far enough. Repealing the law could appease Canada and Mexico and prevent a trade war; however, what message would this send to U.S. consumers? As consumer demand has

been increasing over the past several years for transparency in the food supply, by repealing COOL Congress would in effect be telling consumers that U.S. trade interests are more important. How well this would sit with consumers is unknown, but with the 2016 election on the horizon I’m willing to bet legislators are polling their constituents on this issue. If Congress does nothing U.S. exporters will certainly suffer, most likely passing the additional cost onto consumers. But it isn’t just additional cost, it’s lost jobs. Jobs in the industries affected by the tariffs and jobs that supply those industries. In the stagnant economy in which we live, any action that results in job losses needs to be thoroughly reviewed.

The U.S. Congress is on the clock and the world is watching.  Whatever side you may be on, this is going to be a fight of historic proportions as money continues to pour in from all sides. Stayed tuned for updates as we closely follow this matter and post updates to our blog.

Food Safety Incidents Can Destroy Businesses

Spring is finally here and summer is just around the corner. As a kid this was my favorite time of the year, besides school ending for summer vacation, it was the season of BBQ’s and ice cream. Who doesn’t like ice cream? The average American consumes 48 pints of the delicious treat each year and they consume more ice cream during the summer months than the rest of the year combined.

It is also the favorite time of the year for ice cream makers as they watch their products fly off the shelves. However, not all ice cream makers will be experiencing happiness this summer as some recently were forced to pull their inventories from store shelves. Blue Bell Creameries LP, the maker of Blue Bell Ice Cream, and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams LLC both recently found traces of Listeria bacteria in their products. In addition to pulling products, both companies have temporarily shut down their plants until they can identify and remedy the problem. These recalls follow fellow Washington based ice cream maker, Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream Inc., who last year removed all its ice creams, gelatos, custards and sorbets from retailers’ shelves after health officials linked two listeria cases at a hospital to tubs of its ice cream.

Listeria is not a laughing matter, in fact it is one of the deadliest food borne pathogens. Listeria is a virulent pathogen that thrives in cool, wet environments, and has previously prompted food companies to shut plants since it is difficult to eradicate even through plant cleanings.

For food producers, a food safety incident can be catastrophic. Not only is it a financial strain on the company, but it can destroy their reputation as consumers lose confidence in their business. A perfect example is the 1993 E. coli outbreak that damaged Jack in the Box’s reputation for many years from which they may never fully recover. Plaintiff’s lawyers also pick up on food safety incidents like sharks sniffing out blood in the ocean, leading to countless of lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers allegedly injured by the contaminated products.

These incidents demonstrate why food producers must take preventative measures to put place and enforce food safety procedures in their facilities. It is not enough to just have safety procedures in place for the manufacturing process, companies must also address transportation and storage of their products. This is no longer an option as the proposed rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) focus on the storage and transportation of products, including loading and unloading operations, transportation, packaging and bacterial testing.

There are many producers, both domestically and abroad, that are not yet prepared for FSMA’s requirements to take effect or for the audits that will be required. Training and preparation for audits and inspections will be the key to success of any program. FSMA is a game changer as this training must be targeted at all levels, from the corporate offices to floor managers. If your food company hasn’t already begun the process of implementing the processes and procedures under FSMA it should consider doing so now. The final rules are scheduled to be issued later this year.