Country of origin labeling (COOL) is undergoing a backlash among both domestic and foreign meat producers, who call the regulation unnecessary and unfair.

COOL went into full effect at the beginning of October. It requires meat, fish, perishable agricultural commodities like grain and produce, and certain other products to be identified by its packaging as to its country of origin. COOL actually was passed by Congress in the 2002 Farm Bill, but its implementation for everything except fish was delayed until late 2008.

Canadian meat producers have protested the loudest against COOL, saying it requires American feedlots and meat processors to segregate Canadian cattle and hogs. Some processors will handle Canadian animals only on certain days; others refuse them entirely. According to Canadian meat trade associations, this has driven down the prices they can receive for their animals in the U.S.

The Canadian government filed a complaint over COOL in early December with the World Trade Organization, alleging that it violates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“We believe that the country-of-origin legislation is creating undue trade restrictions to the detriment of Canadian exporters,” Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day said in a statement.

In addition, Easterday Ranches, a cattle-raising operation in Pasco, Wash., has sued in federal court to invalidate COOL. Up to 40% of cattle in the U.S. Pacific Northwest comes from Canada. Easterday says that COOL is forcing it to segregate Canadian from American cattle during feeding and slaughter, leading to unnecessary expense.

Ian Sheldon, a professor at Ohio State University specializing in international food trade, told that he doesn’t see much benefit accruing from COOL.

“I'm not sure what the economic logic is,” Sheldon said. “I just don't see what the specific risks are for such a law to be required.” He said COOL could result in across-the-board higher prices for consumers due to the extra costs involved in segregating and labeling foreign products.