Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning to you and to the members of the committee. I greatly appreciate the invitation to appear before you here today.
My name is Patrick Boyle. I am president and CEO of the American Meat Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C., and which was created by the U.S. meat packing industry in 1906.
AMI's 200 general members include some of the best-known meat and poultry food manufacturers in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Collectively, our U.S. members produce more than 95% of the beef, pork, lamb, and veal in the United States, and nearly 75% of our nation's turkey products.
In many respects, AMI is a North American meat association. Our members include industry leaders in Canada, such as Maple Leaf Foods, Cargill, and XL Beef. In fact, the next witness, Mr. Nilsson, is an AMI director and serves on our executive committee. Similarly, Mexico's largest meat processor, Sigma Alimentos, is an AMI member as well. Since the inception of the North America Free Trade Agreement, companies in these three countries have used comparative competitive advantages to create a very efficient integrated North American livestock and meat market.
AMI membership is a reflection of these economic integrations, and we obviously support and encourage free trade within North America. Conversely, we strongly oppose any measure that would threaten or dampen that free trade. Mandatory country-of-origin labelling, the subject of today's hearing, is clearly such a measure that would dampen and disrupt that free trade. In short, from our perspective, COOL effectively exempts the livestock and meat industry from the proven economic benefits and opportunities provided to all three of our economies under NAFTA.
AMI's involvement in and opposition to COOL goes back more than 10 years since this dubious idea's inception in the mid-1990s. AMI opposed mandatory COOL legislation when it was first introduced and rejected, and continued to oppose it while it was being debated during the 2002 Farm Bill in the United States Congress. We were joined in opposition by major U.S. livestock groups such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and their Canadian counterparts. And I also do wish to note that through the entire COOL debate, the Canadian government was also resolute in opposing this mandate.
Our collective opposition was founded on the recognition that mandatory COOL was a thinly veiled non-tariff trade barrier that would discourage livestock imports into the United States, deny Canadian and Mexican livestock producers an effective return on their investments, and add unnecessary cost to the U.S. meat packing industry and the products that we market, without providing any tangible benefit to retail grocers or to American consumers.
As you know, COOL was included in the 2002 Farm Bill; however, we were successful in inserting an implementation delay of two years. Again in 2004, as the effective date approached, we achieved another two-year reprieve. Similarly in 2006, Congress again delayed implementation until 2008. However, as the members of this committee know, elections have consequences, and in 2006 when the Democratic Party achieved a majority in the House of Representatives, along with a majority in the Senate, the proponents of COOL gained an upper hand, and further delays of this mandate became politically non-viable.
At that time it became necessary for AMI to shift its focus and resources away from advocating repeal of COOL to helping draft the most favourable legislative compromise possible under the circumstances and influencing a workable final regulation from the Department of Agriculture.
That mandatory COOL is costly and burdensome is without dispute. Indeed, in the preamble to the final rule published just last January, the USDA reiterated the conclusions about the benefits of the rule it had put forth five years ago in the initial proposal and again last September when it published an interim final rule.
Specifically, the USDA stated that the expected benefits from implementation of this rule were difficult to quantify, and USDA's earlier conclusion, that the economic benefits will be small, remains unchanged. On the other hand, USDA cost estimates were fairly specific. For example, USDA's first-year implementation cost estimates alone are nearly $300 million for the U.S. pork industry, and $1.25 billion for the U.S. beef industry. Moreover, USDA estimated a loss in productivity, after a 10-year period, in excess of $210 million.
Moreover, these numbers are particularly noteworthy when one considers that they are being incurred during a time of economic challenges throughout North America and the rest of the world. These cost estimates do not include the adverse economic impact of COOL on livestock producers in Canada and Mexico.
Looking ahead, I have a few observations. USDA Secretary Vilsack has expressed dissatisfaction with the final rule that he inherited from the Bush administration. He has asked industry to voluntarily comply with his views on additional labelling information and include that origin information on certain processed products.
In my response to Secretary Vilsack, I indicated that there is little evidence that industry is going to incorporate his preferences voluntarily. Instead, AMI has advised our members to comply with the final rule, not with individual preferences. If the USDA wishes to pursue changes in COOL, it would need to do so through the notice and comment rule-making process. At this point in time, I do not believe the USDA has made a decision on that matter.
Regarding the role of and the interest in Congress related to COOL, I believe they are currently in a COOL oversight mode, with little interest or enthusiasm to revisit or revise the statutory mandate. COOL proponents in Congress wish to monitor compliance through the remainder of this year before they even consider taking up the issue again.
I have a final observation concerning the WTO. AMI understands the rationale for Canada and Mexico to challenge COOL at the WTO. In fact, throughout the COOL debate AMI repeatedly told Congress that COOL violates the U.S. government's commitments under the WTO and that Canada and Mexico would likely challenge it with a good chance of success. To the extent that AMI can be of assistance to your government in this dispute settlement process, we are happy to try to do so.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the time. I look forward to answering any questions you and your colleagues may have.