MCOOL is back: Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling legislation to be introduced next week
Senators from South Dakota say they have teamed up with a Montana colleague as a well as an unlikely ally, vegan Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J) to draft Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for beef legislation to be introduced next week.
Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) says in an official statement that the legislation would require the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in consultation with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, to develop a World Trade Organization-compliant means of reinstating MCOOL for beef within one year of enactment. USTR would have six months to develop a reinstatement plan followed by a six-month window to implement it. If USTR fails to reinstate MCOOL for beef within one year of enactment, it would automatically be reinstated for beef only.
R-CALF USA COOL Committee Chair Mike Schultz said he believes MCOOL would restore $20 billion in lost revenue to the cattle industry per year.
He said that USDA figures showed that the U.S. cattle industry took in about $82 billion in 2014 when the cattle market was strong and when MCOOL was being enforced. He said last year, the cattle industry earned about $62 billion. “Those 20 billion dollars per year that we’ve given up is now in the hands of the four meatpackers. It’s not in the hands of rural America. If we bring that money back to producers and rural communities, those people can survive,” he said.
Schultz doesn’t believe MCOOL will make beef more expensive for the American consumer.
Montana Stockgrowers Association Executive Vice President Jay Bodner said 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.
Bodner said NCBA’s rule change request is “reasonable.” NCBA recently petitioned USDA to ask for a change in labeling rules. Currently beef that is processed or repacked in the US, whether it is domestic or imported, can legally be labeled “Product of the US.” NCBA has asked that those labels be changed to a “Processed in the US” label, to reflect the fact that the beef is processed in the U.S. but may not have originated in the U.S.
“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.
“It’s important to look at the specific language (of the bill),” he said.
Rob Skjonsberg, on behalf of Senator Rounds, clarifies that the bill is specifically and only dealing with beef.
As far as the strategy for making the language WTO-compliant, Skjonsberg said the US Trade Representave’s office should know best how to handle this. “One way or another, we need to address the WTO issue and this is the best incremental approach that we’ve seen. The onus on them to make sure it goes right,” he said.
Skjonsberg said that consumer support will be needed to get enough senators on board with the bill to ensure passage. “It’s quite literally a national campaign. We need to expand beyond our normal listening area to engage consumers on the coast, all over,” he said. To offer encouragement to producers, Skjonsberg offers the example of ethanol plants needing large refineries to handle their product. He said in 2007, there was a grassroots effort which included gaining the support of consumers nationwide. Their efforts succeeded. “Just like they had to do in 2007 , we have to figure out how to let consumers know that this is good for them,” he said.
“Transparency in labeling benefits both producers and consumers,” said Thune, in a news release. “Unfortunately, the current beef labeling system in this country allows imported beef that is neither born nor raised in the United States, but simply finished here, to be labeled as a product of the USA. This process is unfair to cattle producers and misleading for consumers. When you see a ‘product of the USA’ label on the grocery store shelf, it should mean just that.
“South Dakota cattle producers work tirelessly to produce some of the highest quality beef in the world. The pandemic has only highlighted their important role in our domestic food supply and the urgent need to strengthen it. To ensure the viability of cattle ranching in this country, the system in which producers operate must be fair and transparent. As a long-time supporter of MCOOL, I am proud to introduce this legislation, which will move us one step closer to making that a reality.”
“Montana ranchers raise the best cattle in the world, and it’s time American families are guaranteed the right to know whether their beef is from Broadus or Brazil,” said Tester, in a news release. “This bipartisan legislation will make sure consumers know when they’re buying American beef at the supermarket, and it will defend Montana’s family farmers and ranchers by leveling the playing field.”
“It’s time to restore Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) once and for all,” said Rounds in a news release. “This is an important step in restoring market integrity for consumers and cattle producers. For too long, the packers have skewed this market in their favor. Now, we take it back. I’m thankful to my colleagues for helping carry this important issue for consumers and cattle producers. I’ve long said that consumers will need to drive and help carry this policy debate. For those of us who support MCOOL for beef, this is just the start. The nine major cattle producing states won’t get this done alone. We need a national campaign to see this over the finish line.”
“Americans should know exactly where their beef is coming from, but current USDA labeling practices allow big meatpacking companies to falsely label imported beef as being a product of the USA,” said Booker in a news release. “I’m proud to join colleagues in this bipartisan legislation that will restore mandatory country of origin labelling of for all beef products and provide fairness for our family farmers and ranchers.”
“Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) has long been a top priority for the South Dakota Stockgrowers,” said James Halverson, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. “MCOOL is the only way every single American producer can differentiate their beef from foreign products without leaving it up to some arbitrary program. We greatly appreciate working with Senator Thune on this legislation and hope we can continue to work together to get this across the finish line. The American consumer deserves to know where the center of their plate was born, raised, and harvested. American farmers and ranchers have invested countless amounts of time and treasure meeting consumer demand with the best beef in the world. It’s time we market all American beef that way.”
“During the nearly seven years since MCOOL for beef was repealed, U.S. cattle producers experienced lower cattle prices and were deprived the means to build demand for their U.S.-produced cattle,” said Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF USA in a news release. “Senators Thune and Tester’s bill to restore MCOOL for beef will now provide that means, and for that we are extremely grateful.”
“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,” said Justin Tupper, vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association in a news release. “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.”
“On behalf of America’s family farmers and ranchers, we applaud Senators Thune and Tester for introducing common sense legislation to help consumers know where their food comes from,“ said Rob Larew, president of National Farmers Union in a news release.“We have long fought for mandatory Country of Origin labeling for food products, recognizing consumers want this information so they can make educated decisions in grocery store aisles.”
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