National Cattlemen’s Beef Association on COOL
In the last 20 years there have been few if any issues that the cattle industry has faced that have been so divisive, that have raised such hostility and that have spurred such misinformation as Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (mCOOL). This one issue is directly responsible for the creation of at least two radical splinter groups and has been used to pit cattlemen against meat packers and falsely pit consumers against both. Enough is enough and it’s time to move forward for the good of our industry.
NCBA has opposed mCOOL since passage by Congress, first because it’s a government run mandatory labeling program that has nothing to do with food safety. As cattlemen and women, we oppose government mandates that interfere with the marketplace. Don’t be fooled, mCOOL is a marketing program, run and administered by the USDA. Currently, foreign meat products that enter the U.S. must be inspected upon entry and meet equal or greater inspection standards where they were produced to those of the U.S. Today, processed meats are already labeled when they enter this country. Therefore, what we are really talking about when we talk about mCOOL is live cattle entering the U.S. to be fed and processed. And that is where the rub comes in.
These cattle pose no food safety issues, but some with a protectionist view – from ranchers to association CEOs – see this as a threat to their livelihood. Fact is nothing could be further from the truth. The U.S., Canadian and Mexican cattle industries are intertwined and mutually beneficial. Feeding and packing sectors in Canada and Mexico are underbuilt and in the U.S. are overbuilt. We already have the lowest herd numbers in over fifty years and are on pace for record exports. The only way we can continue to meet domestic and international demand for high quality U.S. beef is to continue our trade relationships and shy away from regressive tendencies.
Mandatory COOL is going to hurt our packing and feeding industries, industries that support independent cattlemen and women. Industries that we rely on to get cattle from the ranch to the market. We are already seeing packers refusing to accept cattle from Canada and this trend will only get worse. With the amended mCOOL rule, beef products will now be required to be labeled as born, raised and slaughtered. Each of these steps requiring segregation and record-keeping throughout the process, adding cost and impeding trade. The industry of the last century was built around having cattle come in from Canada and Mexico.
Feedlots and packing facilities located along the northern and southern borders to accommodate this free flow of trade. Trade relationships were formed with this in mind. Without this flow, many of these facilities will be forced to close; we’ve already seen closure like the plant in Plainview, Texas and the feedlot that closed soon after. This means fewer feeders and packers, longer hauling distance and less choice for consumers. Fewer options and higher costs are the result. This is going to be detrimental to the rancher, as these costs cannot be passed along to the consumer, but instead will be evident in the price paid to the cow/calf men and women. I know it’s great to rally around our domestic product, and we’re all proud of the beef we raise. But to suppose it’s not the beef we raise because it’s born across the border is not reality.
The cattle we feed here; is the beef we raise. The cattle we slaughter here; is the beef we raise. It’s a product that is desired around the world. We don’t oppose labeling, we don’t oppose the consumer’s desire to know where their beef comes from. But these wants come with a cost and I cannot justify saddling the entire industry with the wants of a few. Not when there are already programs in place today that satisfy those consumers wants on a case by case basis. There are programs that allow producers to label their beef by origin, tenderness, flavor, production, and the list goes on. And these programs financially award producers for participating.
We agree that when asked the consumer will say they want more information. But as with all the facts around mCOOL, the truth is skewed. Ranchers don’t make money from what the consumers say they want, they make money on what the consumer will pay a premium for. As the Kansas State University study showed: beef demand was unaffected by mCOOL, consumers were unaware of mCOOL information, and consumers would not pay a premium for mCOOL. This leaves us with only a cost to our industry.
Let’s not fall for the short terms goals of some in the industry and their mudslinging. We need to look at the long term goals of sustaining the beef industry for generations to come. This is our industry and it will be what we make of it. We have enough to contend with, between markets and weather, the last thing we need is Uncle Sam in there trying to market our product. Look at programs like Certified Angus Beef or the sales of Laura’s Lean, then look at the Government’s health care website. You worry about “four packers,” wait until the government has your industry.