Country of Origin Labeling: MCOOL bill officially introduced
Billings, Mont. – On Monday, Sept. 13, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), for himself and for Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Rounds, (R-S.D.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the “American Beef Labeling Act of 2021,” which is now officially numbered as Senate Bill 2716 (S.2716).
Senate Bill 2716 reinstates beef as among the numerous food commodities currently subject to the United States mandatory country-of-origin labeling (M-COOL) law that was originally passed by Congress in the 2002 Farm Bill.
The reinstatement of beef into the existing M-COOL law will occur no later than one-year after S.2716 is enacted. In the event the U.S. Trade Ambassador and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture develop a means of implementing S.2716 in a manner compliant with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, the bill authorizes the two presidential cabinet members to implement the measure any time after the bill’s enactment, but no later than its one-year anniversary date.
Both beef and pork were included in the original M-COOL law passed in the 2002 Farm Bill, but Congress later removed both beef and pork from the law in 2015. Senate Bill 2716 will effectively reverse the 2015 congressional action as it relates to beef.
During a press conference hosted by Senator Jon Tester, R-CALF USA’s Director of Operations, Candace Bullard, said one of the reasons America has lost hundreds of thousands of cattle ranchers over the past few decades is because “…meatpackers that purchase cattle for beef are outsourcing cattle and beef from foreign countries, and they don’t let the final purchaser know where its coming from.”
“We, as a nation, depend on our cattle ranchers – we all witnessed the empty meat cases at the start of the pandemic. Together, we have the power to change the course of our cattle industry: for U.S. cattle producers to earn a better living, for job creation and economic development, and for the protection of our nation’s food security.”
USCA Vice President Justin Tupper says, “We greatly appreciate the work of Senators Thune and Tester in continuing to push forward solutions to define what constitutes a U.S. beef product. From the perspective of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, that label should pertain only to beef that was born, raised, and harvested in the U.S.A. This legislation provides a pathway for achieving clear, accurate labels so that consumers can continue choosing to put high quality American beef on their plates.”
USCA’s Labeling Committee worked with Senators Thune and Tester on the technical aspects of the bill. Our Director Emeritus, Leo McDonnell, has been at the forefront of mandatory country of origin labeling since its inception and weighed in on the bill’s provisions, said USCA’s Lia Biondo. “The U.S. cattle industry’s priorities are in the spotlight right now – if there has ever been a moment to ensure the integrity of the U.S. beef label, it is now.“
Montana Stockgrowers Association Executive Vice President Jay Bodner told TSLN last week that his organization supports the idea of labeling beef born, raised and processed in the U.S. He looks forward to seeing the language of the legislation to determine where his organization will stand.
“There is support, certainly for identifying U.S. product. I think there is a general consensus among the cattle industry that that is the way we need to go. How do we get there is the question,” said Bodner.
“In the last year and a half there is a renewed interest in where the consumers’ food is coming from. We don’t see that going away. Ultimately our goal is to provide consumer confidence in our products and increase demand. That will work its way down to the cow-calf producer,” said Bodner. He is pleased that the Senators intend to require the bill to be WTO-compliant, commenting that he doesn’t want the industry to spend time and resources going down the “same path” and hitting the “same roadblocks” as before.
The 2002 M-COOL law passed in the 2002 Farm Bill and amended by the 2008 Farm Bill required country-of-origin labels on beef, lamb, pork, goat meat, chicken, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, peanuts, ginseng, pecans, and macadamia nuts.
After M-COOL’s 2002 passage, implementation was delayed. When it later took effect in early 2009, the implementing regulations allowed beef packers to affix a label on beef products suggesting that beef originated from three countries, such as “Product of Canada, Mexico, and USA.”
The 2009 implementation of M-COOL for both beef and pork triggered a World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint by Canada and Mexico, with both alleging that M-COOL treated their imported livestock less favorably than domestic livestock.
Then, in early 2013 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) attempted to address the WTO’s finding that, among other things, the multi-country label allowed by the 2009 implementing regulations diminished M-COOL’s stated purpose of accurately informing consumers as to where their meat originated. The USDA promulgated new regulations that required beef to be labeled according to where each of its three production steps took place: where the animal was born, where it was raised, and where it was harvested. This produced labels such as “Born in Mexico, Raised and Harvested in the USA,” and “Born, Raised, and Harvested in the USA.”
But these more accurate labels did not satisfy the WTO and it ultimately ruled that M-COOL discriminated against imports of livestock from Canada and Mexico. Based on the WTO’s ruling, and without pursuing any further diplomatic measures to attempt to assuage Canada and Mexico’s concern, Congress simply repealed M-COOL for beef and pork in 2015.
Since 2015 consumers have had access to information as to where the beef they purchase at retail originates.
–R-CALF USA release and TSLN reporting
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News