Thanks, Rep. Cramer, for anti-COOL stance |

Thanks, Rep. Cramer, for anti-COOL stance

Steve Brooks
Bowman, N.D.
President, ND Stockmen’s Association

North Dakota cattle ranchers tip their hat to Rep. Kevin Cramer for standing up for the state's beef industry and supporting the economy. He recognizes what's at stake now that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has for the fourth time ruled against the United States' government-mandated country-of-origin labeling program and our nation is on the brink of retaliation from Canada and Mexico, our two largest trading partners. Canada and Mexico combined account for more than $2 billion in U.S. beef exports annually, or a third of all U.S. beef exports. But that is only one part of the picture. The total U.S. exports to those two countries amount to $597 billion annually.

My family and I ranch in southwestern North Dakota, and, like my fellow ranchers throughout the state, we are proud of the cattle we raise. North Dakota is home to some of the best cattle in the world. For that reason, I support the chance to label our product and differentiate it in the marketplace through the many voluntary, industry-driven programs certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These programs give consumers choices and information and reward producers like me for meeting certain demands.

On the flipside, I do not support the burdensome and onerous government-mandated country-of-origin labeling program, which has cost the U.S. cattle industry an estimated $8.07 billion without any corresponding benefit. Now, to add insult to injury, our entire economy is about to suffer from impending trade sanctions from our two North American neighbors. Mexico hasn't released its "hit list" yet, but Canada's tallies up to $2 billion alone, and, besides beef, includes other North Dakota products, such as ethanol, corn, sugar, pasta and French fries.

A mandatory labeling program run by the federal government is not the way I want to market U.S. beef. It does not bring value to ranchers or consumers. COOL has been the law of the land for six years, but its non-descript, often-overlooked labeling has not resulted in increased demand for U.S. beef or premiums for our producers. A Kansas State University study confirmed that demand has not been impacted and that consumers are unaware of origin labeling. That's in sharp contrast to the highly successful and effective voluntary, industry-led marketing programs like Certified Angus Beef and Laura's Lean, which do have consumer followings, generate rancher premiums and don't jeopardize American jobs and industries with punitive trade sanctions like COOL will if Congress doesn't correct this problem with a full repeal soon.

It's important to remember that this issue is not about food safety. In fact, COOL is administered by the Ag Marketing Service, not the Food Safety Inspection Service that oversees all beef sold in the United States – domestic and imported – and ensures that it meets our country's food safety standards. That process, which ensures a safe, wholesome beef-eating experience for American consumers, is totally independent of COOL, and will be completely unaffected if the legislation is repealed.

It's time for our industry – and Congress – to address this problem and for us to focus on labeling opportunities that benefit consumers and producers and that do not subject our country to economic harm. Thanks to Rep. Cramer for his leadership and common-sense approach on this issue.