MT MCOOL bill heard in house ag committee
HB 324 seeks to restore honest markets for ranchers, greater transparency for consumers
On Feb. 11, the Montana House Agriculture Committee heard testimony on a bill that aims to restore transparency in meat labeling, giving American beef and pork producers access to a more honest marketplace while allowing consumers to reliably purchase meat produced in the United States.
House Bill 324, the Montana Country-of-Origin Placarding Act of 2021, was introduced by Representative Frank Smith (D – Poplar), with an additional 19 bipartisan co-sponsors signed on in support.
Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) is not new to Montana or the United States.
A Montana COOL bill was enacted in 2005 after being advanced by the Northern Plains Resource Council. This paved the way for a federal COOL law passed in 2009. Once the federal law went into effect, Montana COOL was sunsetted, because it was no longer needed.
However, federal COOL was later repealed in 2015 when multinational meatpacking corporations exerted pressure on U.S. lawmakers through international trade agreements. Since the federal repeal, a loophole exists where imported beef from other countries can be labeled “Product of USA” simply if it is repackaged in the U.S.
HB 324 seeks to clarify these misleading labels with a simple fix. The bill would have grocers make an effort to display placards (signs) at meat counters differentiating beef and pork into two categories using the following language:
BORN, RAISED, AND PROCESSED IN THE USA
her testimony to the committee, Northern Plains chair and Birney rancher Jeanie Alderson described the economic toll levied on ranchers by the current misleading labeling system.
“On our ranch and every other ranch in our state, we have felt the importance of good Country-of-Origin Labeling laws,” said Alderson. “In 2014, when we had national COOL, our steer calves brought $2.52 cents per pound; but in 2015 when COOL was abolished, we only received $1.50 per pound. That is a 40.6% loss in just one year. We are just asking for fair prices for our hard work and good cattle.”
Alderson went on to describe how the lack of transparency in meat labeling laws affects families and consumers.
“I am a rancher, and I am also a mom. Feeding one’s family is one of the most important jobs any parent has,” Alderson continued. “I know what it is to make choices; to try to balance my budget while also making sure my kids get the very best food they can.”
“It is just wrong that moms like me cannot trust that the USDA beef they are
buying is born and raised in this country,” she said.
In closing her testimony, Alderson asked Montana legislators to lead the way in restoring Country-of-Origin Labeling once again, as they had in 2005.
“In Montana, we pride ourselves on our independence and our ranching heritage,” Alderson concluded. “Agriculture is our number one industry. Let’s show the rest of the country what it means to stand up for ranchers.”
The House Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on HB 324 next week.
–Northern Plains Resource Council
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