House members sponsor MCOOL legislation
Congressmen from Texas and California teamed up to introduce legislation in the House of Representatives to require USDA to achieve a WTO-compliant way to implement labeling for beef.
The legislation is a companion piece to the Senate with similar language.
Congressmen Lance Gooden (R-Tex.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) are working together on the bill, while The bipartisan Senate bill was introduced by Senators John Thune (R-S.Dak.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Rounds (R-S.Dak.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in September 2021.
If enacted, the bill would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work together with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to “determine a means of re-instating mandatory country of origin labeling for beef in accordance with the amendments made by subsections a and b, that is in compliance with all applicable rules of the World Trade Organization,” within six months of the bill’s passage.
The legislation also states that the rule would be implemented within one year.
R-CALF USA has long been a champion for this issue.
“This is what I would consider the biggest news for the cattle industry and the American consumer in months,” said R-CALF USA Field Director Karina Jones.
Jones said with Khanna serving on the House Ag Committee, her organization is hopeful that the committee will schedule a hearing on the topic soon. She added that the Farm Bill could be an alternative route to move MCOOL forward if the standalone bills aren’t successful.
“We’ve got Texas and California. Those are states where we have typically not gotten legislative support for the cattle industry issues, and now we’ve got leaders emerging from those states. They will bring their own network of political influence that we haven’t had access to in the past – consumer groups, labor groups, rural America groups. So that’s really exciting,” she said.
Jones thinks the time is right to try to move this legislation forward. “Right now Washington, DC is focused on consumer issues. The consumer is letting DC know that they are paying more for groceries than ever before. They are feeling duped that they don’t know who they are supporting at the meat counter when it comes to purchasing beef.”
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is an advocate for mandatory country of origin labeling, and their Vice President, Justin Tupper of St. Onge Livestock said this bill is a step in the right direction.
“We think we should know where our food comes from,” he said. His organization will continue work on the Fisher and Grassley compromise bill which was recently amended, and will also lobby for the mandatory country of origin labeling bill. “I’m sure we’ll support both,” he said.
NCBA could not immediately be reached for comment on this bill. They have not historically supported mandatory country of origin labeling. The organization has worked to encourage processors to voluntarily stop labeling beef that is imported into the US with a “product of the USA label” and to instead use a “processed in the USA label” for beef imported into the US and broken down, transformed, or repackaged for retail use. “Further, USDA through the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) should proactively work with beef producers, processors, and retailers to develop voluntary, verifiable origin marketing claims that deliver tangible benefits to cattle producers without violating rules of trade,” said NCBA in a recent Meat and Poultry article.
RF Buche, who owns grocery stores in Pine Ridge, Wanblee, Mission, Gregory, Oacoma, Watner and Sisseton, South Dakota, is currently running a special on beef produced from midwestern cattle raised on midwestern ranches.
Buche said in some of his stores, customers are quite interested in where the beef comes from. In all of his stores, the customers are concerned about the quality of the beef he provides.
A switch to Certified Angus Beef about five years ago has helped him to be able to provide a consistent, high quality product, and his customers have noticed, he said.
“Our customers have responded to it,” he said.
The farm and ranch economy directly affects the success of his stores, he said. “In a town like Gregory, when farmers and ranchers are doing well, our store does well. When they don’t, we don’t. If they don’t have a good year, it affects us immensely,” he said. Which is part of the reason he wanted to run his “Midwest Ranchers” beef sale – with the tagline “South Dakota ranchers are important to our economy.”
Losing families in his communities, including ranchers, is a devastating blow to his business, he said. If mandatory country of origin labeling is able to help ranchers make money, it will help him and other small town businesses. “Any family going away is a big deal to us. It’s no secret small towns are shrinking. It’s devastating when families leave. We don’t have the turns on our fresh meat, dairy, etc. We end up having to throw more things away, and we could potentially lose buying power.”
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 not had access to information as to where the beef they purchase at retail originates.
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