Former GIPSA official defends COOL
Fayetteville, Ark. – J. Dudley Butler, former Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) is now co-counsel representing R-CALF USA, Food & Water Watch, South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and Western Organization of Resource Councils in their legal action to defend country-of-origin labeling (COOL) against the lawsuit filed in July by meatpacker lobby groups.
Butler squared off last month with meatpacker attorney John Dillard who represents the North American Meatpackers Association (NAMA), one of the nine meatpacker-lobby plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the final COOL rule that took effect Nov. 23, 2013.
The two lawyers debated the merits of COOL for longer than one and one-half hours on a webinar sponsored by the National Agricultural Law Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Butler praised the final COOL rule for its ability to provide consumers with accurate, factual information about where their meat came from with a price tag of less than one penny per pound based on the cost estimates in the rule and meat production data.
In response to the meatpacker lobby’s assertion that “beef is beef, whether the cattle were born in Montana, Manitoba, or Mazatlán, Butler argued it is wrong to characterize the U.S. cattle industry as a North American cattle industry and wrong to assert that there is no difference between cattle produced in the United States versus those produced in foreign countries.
“That’s just not true,” Butler said adding, “You know we (the United States) have the safest beef in the world, we have worked hard as cattlemen – generations have worked hard – to produce the safest beef in the world.”
Butler further explained that the Secretary of Agriculture addressed all the concerns raised by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the final COOL rule by making origin labels more accurate and by ending the deceptive practice of using a multi-country label on beef produced exclusively from United States cattle.
In response to audience questions, Butler said he was confident the U.S. would prevail in the current WTO challenge by Canada and Mexico against the final COOL rule and, therefore, was not concerned with the threats that Canada continues to make about placing retaliatory tariffs on other goods.
Butler rebutted Dillard’s claim that a Kansas study showed that 25 percent of consumers were unaware of COOL labels by stating that was entirely understandable given that retailers have been printing COOL labels that are too small to read. Butler said of the label he found on a package of beef: “It was hidden in plain sight; it was so small that nobody could even see it . . .”
Butler warned that Canada and Mexico are just poster children in the meatpackers’ fight against COOL as Brazil, a country with a cattle herd larger than twice that of the United States “will be in this sooner or later.”
Butler also warned that the elimination of COOL would facilitate the vertical integration of the U.S. cattle industry because it would be much easier for meatpackers to take control of the cattle supply system and to do away with independent producers if independent producers are unable to differentiate and promote their USA product in the U.S. marketplace.
He said vertical integration does not control the land, buildings, or equipment. Instead, it controls the farmer. This Butler said was the lesson already learned in the poultry and hog industries.
Dillard said the U.S. sheep industry, which he said had taken a pounding, is an example of an industry that supports COOL because COOL is a form of protectionism.
Butler, however, staunchly disagreed: “There’s no protectionism here. All there is is honesty. Let everybody know where your product comes from.”
Yesterday the National Agricultural Law Center posted the full recording of the debate between Butler and Dillard that can be accessed at: http://nationalaglawcenter.org/center-outreach/coolwebinar/