To commemmorate this week's 40th anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, twenty-two members of Congress sent a letter today to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, urging him to defend the U.S. "dolphin-safe" tuna labeling program in the face of the WTO ruling against the successful dolphin-saving label earlier this year. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, championed the letter, which follows one sent to President Obama in May.
The letter calls the WTO ruling "misguided," saying it "has threatened to turn back the clock to the days when foreign fleets killed tens of thousands of dolphins each year in a tuna fishing free-for-all." The letter notes that the "dolphin-safe" label has contributed to a 97% reduction of dolphin deaths in the Eastern Pacific in the last 25 years. It further argues that the label cannot violate WTO national treatment rules as a voluntary program available to any country for tuna caught under dolphin-safe practices. The members of Congress who signed the letter conclude that the WTO ruling "presents the United States with two equally unacceptable options: spend limited regulatory resources to enforce dolphin-safe tuna fishing requirements in oceans where dolphins and tuna do not intermingle, or allow Mexico to sell dolphin-unsafe tuna to U.S. consumers under a dolphin-safe label."
The congressional letter comes as Mexico, which launched the WTO case against the U.S. "dolphin-safe" label, formally joins the U.S. and nine other countries as a negotiating member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP negotiations in December, to be held in New Zealand, will be the first with Mexico's participation. Today's letter urges U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to "incorporate resolution of this WTO dispute" into the TPP negotiations to "ensure that we do not weaken or eliminate our successful dolphin-safe labeling regime." In a press release, Markey said, "Moving this dispute into the TPP negotiations is a necessary and appropriate step to ensure that U.S. consumers know that when they are eating tuna, they aren’t killing dolphins."
The signatories to today's letter are an eclectic mix of House representatives, including fifteen ranking members of diverse committees and subcommittees:
- Natural Resources: Markey (Ranking Member of full committee), Grijalva (National Parks)
- Foreign Affairs: Faleomavaega (Asia/Pacific), Meeks (Europe/Asia)
- Transportation: Brown (Railroads), Larsen (Maritime)
- Appropriations: Farr (Agriculture), Honda (Legislative Branch)
- Education and Workforce: Miller (Ranking Member of full committee)
- Armed Services: Bordallo (Readiness), Davis (Military Personnel)
- Homeland Security: Keating (Oversight)
- Intelligence: Schakowsky (Oversight)
- Oversight: Kucinich (Regulatory Affairs)
- Judiciary: Nadler (Constitution)
For more background on the WTO ruling against the "dolphin-safe" label, click here.