Keeping COOL under pressure
May 19, 2015
Summer meals for many begin on the grill. What if I told you the sanctity of throwing a burger or steak on the grill is under attack? And, this attack is specifically directed at your rights as a consumer?
Currently, members of Congress are attempting to undermine an integral piece of American legislation, Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).
This legislation requires food sellers to label their products based on where the product was born, raised and processed. The attempts by members of Congress are made in conjunction with allegations from Canada and Mexico in a current case at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
These opponents are using unwarranted claims and, in some cases, scare tactics to erode consumer rights and food safety in the U.S.
Representative K. Michael Conaway, Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture in the House of Representatives, is using his position on the committee as a pulpit to spread unwarranted claims and attack consumer rights. For example, Rep. Conaway argued that COOL is not about food safety, but rather about consumer information. Yet, Rep. Conaway ignores the fact that consumers can use the information gained from country of origin labeling to protect themselves from beef imported from countries dealing with outbreaks of animal diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or otherwise known as mad cow disease). These kinds of half-truth attacks are both an oversimplification and misrepresentation of COOL.
Rep. Conaway also claims that COOL is costly for producers, retailers and consumers citing an AMS report outlining the first year incremental costs.
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What Rep. Conaway again neglects is the fact that COOL is an issue of consumer rights as well as a food safety concern.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) operates on a $4.3 billion budget addressing those very concerns. If cost suddenly trumps safety than we might as well save the American taxpayers $4.3 billion by eliminating the FDA!
Yet, in the Declaration of Independence it is stated, in reference to government, "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
These issues are simply invaluable and certainly shouldn't be leveraged against their cost.
Even more concerning is the fact that COOL opponents are attempting to use the support of a coalition of businesses – both domestic and international – to address a consumer rights issue.
Last I read, the U.S. Constitution did not say "We the businesses," the Gettysburg Address did not say "a government of the businesses, by the businesses, and for the businesses," rather, these fundamental documents refer to the will of the PEOPLE of this great nation; and the people of this great nation have shown overwhelming support for COOL over the last decade.
A May 2013 survey by the Consumer Federation of America found 90 percent of consumers agree that food sellers should be required to indicate on the label the country of origin of fresh meat they sell.
Our delegations would be wise to remember that they are elected to serve the will of the PEOPLE, not of the BUSINESS sector.
In a further effort to defeat COOL, opponents have resorted to using the scare tactic of a WTO authorized retaliation by Canada and Mexico. However, in order for such a retaliation to take place, the parties would need to prove a significant economic impact due to COOL. Such proof, according to Dr. Robert Taylor of Auburn University, does not exist.
In a 2015 recent study available to the public, Dr. Taylor concluded that COOL had no significant impact on the export markets of Canadian beef. Without a smoking gun, our trade partners would have no warrant for retaliation. Yet, COOL opponents in Congress are using this scare tactic in an effort to preempt the WTO process.
Members of Congress have already prepared legislation for the repeal of COOL. This would be an unprecedented move, intervening in the WTO process before its completion. Such a repeal would be a significant blow to American sovereignty.
Currently, we have labeling laws that require origin labeling on products like fruits, vegetables and even the shirts on our back. Shouldn't our beef and other meat products meet a similar if not higher standard?
Ultimately you must ask yourself, "Do I as a consumer have the right to know where my food comes from?"
If you believe you do, I urge you to contact your Congressional delegation and tell them to keep COOL.
If you want to keep COOL a federal law, contact your Congressional representatives by calling the switchboard to the Capitol at (202) 224-3121 and encourage them to leave COOL in our federal law. To learn more about South Dakota Farmers Union, visit http://www.sdfu.org.
Doug Sombke, South Dakota Farmers Union President
Fourth generation crop and cattle farmer, Conde, S.D.