South Dakota Senate State Affairs committee approves state country of origin labeling for beef
In a 5-3 vote Wednesday, Feb. 15, the South Dakota Senate State Affairs Committee approved a bill to require South Dakota grocers to display country of origin labeling information for beef and ground beef in their stores.
State Representative Ryan Maher from Isabel spoke in favor of the bill.
As a rancher and a restaurant owner, Maher shared with the committee details about recent cattle prices as well as recent beef prices.
After the national country of origin labeling law for beef was repealed in 2015, Maher said cattle prices took a dive. Falling from a high of about $1,658 for a calf in 2014, in 2015 when country of origin labeling is repealed, the family’s calves brought $1,207 each and by the, fall of 2016, their calves sold for $677 each.
Beef prices did not follow cattle prices, he said. Referring to invoices from his Isabel, South Dakota restaurant, Maher referenced sirloin prices in 2012 being $3.81 per pound and $4.49 per pound in 2016. In 2012, ribeye prices were $8.71, he said, compared to $9.89 in 2016.
Silvia Christen, speaking on behalf of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association said that while most foods continue to be labeled in grocery stores, country of origin labeling for beef and pork was repealed now.
“We do know a lot of our grocery stores are able to determine where the beef is from,” she said, explaining that she’s talked with grocery store owners, and has learned that often the boxes of beef include a label telling that the beef originated in the US.
“If that information is available in the freezer in the back, it should be available in the shelf in the front of the store, as well,” she said.
“We as producers are proud to let them know what we’re raising and we’d like to let them have the opportunity to buy American if that information is available,” said Christen.
An amendment suggested by Christen would change the term “label” in the bill to “placard” so that grocery stores in the state would be required to display a sign or placard, rather than individually label packages of meat. The committee approved the amendment.
Winner, South Dakota rancher Joel Keierleber asked for support for the bill.
Brazilian beef imports rose 34 percent the month after national country of origin labeling for beef was repealed, he said. “We have become one of the top 10 importers of Brazilian beef. We’ve got a veterinary feed directive now. I have to keep track of antibiotics I’m feeding my cattle, I have to get a license from the veterinarian, and he has to approve it,” he said. “They don’t have to do that in these foreign countries we import from.”
Consumers should have the opportunity to know where their beef is coming from, he said.
Scott VanderWal, a farmer from Volga, South Dakota, president of South Dakota Farm Bureau spoke as an individual.
VanderWal said that USDA has said that state labeling in regard to meat and poultry that are different than federal rules are “pre-empted” by federal rules.
The issue is complicated and might have the opposite effect of what the supporters are hoping for, he said.
In 2016 only 11 percent of the beef was imported, so labeling it is redundant. Also most imported food is grassfed, lower quality beef that does not get sold on grocery stores, he believes, but is destined for fast food chains.
He worries that grocery stores will choose to not carry beef or will charge more for it in order to avoid the extra hassle of displaying a placard with origin information.
“What question will a label saying ‘unknown origin’ raise in people’s minds?” he asked.
He asked for a “no” vote on the bill.
Jodie Anderson, executive director and registered lobbyist for South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association said that while her group agrees that consumers are interested in the origin of their beef, a mandatory labeling program is not the answer.
“There are a number of source and age verification programs already available to beef producers in the U.S. and South Dakota, and also branded beef programs available to consumers … that provide age and source verification if that is indeed an interest to our producers and consumers,” she said.
A spokesman for the South Dakota Pork Producers also spoke against the bill, saying that because poultry and other meat groups aren’t asking for labeling, country of origin labeling for beef must not be a good idea.
The state department of agriculture spoke agains the bill for fear that it would be repealed like the federal law was.
Mike Held, speaking for the South Dakota Farm Bureau said his group does not support the bill.
“Obviously consumers need and deserve accurate information,” he said. “If we get into a network where 50 states state to do their own verbiage, their own requirements as to what things need to be labeled, consumers will no longer have a reliable system.”
In an interview with Tri-State Livestock News, Deb Noteboom, operations manager for all 10 Lynn’s Dakotamart stores in South Dakota said her grocery store chain had no problem complying with the national country of origin labeling requirements, and that in fact they appreciated the chance to offer such information to their customers.
“It’s not a problem at all. We’re happy to have that (country of origin labeling information) on our shelves. We proudly sell American beef, pork and so-on.”
Noteboom said that if the bill becomes law, Lynn’s Dakotamart stores will be happy to implement it.
South Dakota Farmers Union, South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, Dakota Rural Action, South Dakota Livestock Auction Markets Association spoke in favor of the bill. The South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Retailers, and South Dakota Chamber of Commerce spoke against the bill.
The bill is expected to be heard on the floor of the Senate Feb. 21.