WASHINGTON – Congress repealed the US country of origin labeling (COOL) law in 2015. But three federal lawmakers have revived the issue by introducing legislation that would ensure only meat from cattle raised and slaughtered in the United States can bear the “Product of the U.S.A.” label.
US Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) on Oct. 30 introduced the U.S. Beef Integrity Act which the lawmakers said will close a loophole that allows beef from cattle born and raised abroad to be labeled “Product of the U.S.A.” Rounds and Thune also wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue offering support for administrative changes to beef labeling requirements administered by the Food Safety and Inspection Agency.
“Our cattle producers offer some of the highest-quality beef in the world,” Rounds said. “Consumers deserve to know where their food is coming from. When South Dakota families purchase beef labeled ‘Product of the U.S.A.,’ they should know with certainty that it is coming from one of our top-quality producers. Today’s beef labeling rules are misleading and allow beef and beef products from cattle born, raised and slaughtered outside of the US to be labeled as US beef. This must be fixed for both consumers and our hardworking producers.”
In the letter to Perdue, the senators raised concerns about qualifications for labeling beef. “Unfortunately, without clear parameters, the current “Product of the U.S.A.” label can be misleading to consumers and can result in imported beef being labeled as though it is of US origin,” the letter stated.
And, on Oct. 31, Sen. Jon Tester (R-Mont.), introduced a Senate resolution to support reinstating COOL for beef and pork. In a statement, Tester noted that COOL currently is in effect for chicken, lamb and goat, among other agricultural products.
“Our farmers and ranchers produce the best agricultural products in the world,” Tester said. “Consumers want to buy those American-made products, and country of origin labeling lets producers show their product was raised right here in America—and ensures folks can make informed choices about the food they buy.”
Some ranchers groups that have been working to persuade state and federal lawmakers to reinstate COOL laws applauded the lawmakers support for origin labels on beef and pork products.
“Senator Tester’s resolution calling on Congress to reinstate COOL for beef and pork is the start we have been waiting for to help us encourage Congress to once again provide us the tools we need to compete in our own domestic market,” said Mike Schultz, R-CALF USA COOL Committee chair. “Importantly, today’s bi-partisan resolution supports and complements President Trump’s directive that Americans start buying and hiring Americans. Until COOL for beef is once again the law of the land, consumers have no way of helping America’s cattle farmers and ranchers by buying American beef.”
Congress repealed COOL for pork and beef in 2015 after a series of rulings by the World Trade Organization against the law. The WTO authorized Canada and Mexico to impose retaliatory tariffs of almost $1 billion against US products.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) struck a cautionary tone on the issue of beef labeling, saying that policymaking requires “…a thorough understanding of the problem and the involvement of many stakeholders.”
Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president, Government Affairs, reiterated the organization’s commitment to transparent labeling for beef products.
“In August, in response to a proposal brought forward by our grassroots members, NCBA formed a working group to examine the prevalence of the alleged mislabeling practices,” Lane said. “We are in the process of gathering information related to current industry labeling practices so we can fully understand the scope of the issue as we identify solutions that work for the industry.
“In general, NCBA members are opposed to requesting additional government regulation on our industry,” Lane continued. “Until we understand the scope of labeling practices currently being utilized, any rush to regulate is an irresponsible step that can create unnecessary and burdensome government mandates. NCBA is actively seeking information on beef labeling practices.”