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Stephen Mihm

Mystery Meat Knows No Borders

The complicated history of country-of-origin requirements.
Passport, please.

Passport, please.

Photographer: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

 Last week, the House of Representatives voted to repeal a law requiring pork, chicken and beef from Canada and Mexico to have so-called country-of-origin labels. The two U.S. neighbors recently won World Trade Organization rulings that the labeling was a form of discrimination.

These labels, enacted as part of farm bills in 2002 and 2008, were initially viewed as a way to protect consumers. But history suggests that country-of-origin laws have a long and dubious history as a weapon in the protectionism arsenal.