Denver, Colo. – Yesterday, the Democratic leadership of the Colorado General Assembly’s House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee, Chair Jeni James Arndt and Vice-chair Diane Mitsch Bush, led the defeat of a measure that would have informed Colorado consumers of the origins of beef they purchase for themselves and their families.
In a 7 to 6 party line vote, with only one Democrat and one Republican breaking party ranks, the Democrats prevailed to kill HB17-1234, a bill that would reinstate country of origin information for Colorado consumers by requiring a placard denoting origin be placed next to beef sold in retail stores.
According to the measure’s accompanying fact sheet, Representative Kimmi Lewis and Senator Vicki Marble introduced the bill to allow Colorado consumers to choose between U.S. beef and foreign beef. By offering consumers this choice, the bill was expected to improve the competitiveness of U.S. farmers and ranchers by increasing demand for their U.S. born and raised cattle.
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard, along with numerous Colorado ranchers and consumers, testified in support of the bill. Bullard explained that the Tariff Act of 1930 requires virtually all imported goods be labeled as to their origin to “an ultimate purchaser.” However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) failed to define “ultimate purchaser” as the end-user consumer. As a result, he said, meatpackers were able to hide the origins of beef they sourced from 20 different countries, including Croatia, Mexico, Ireland, Australia, Honduras and Nicaragua, to name a few.
Bullard said the 2002 country of origin labeling (COOL) law corrected USDA’s failure by requiring country of origin labels to remain on beef “through retail sale,” which means all the way to the consumer.
“But then in 2015 Congress repealed COOL for political convenience and the true origins of imported beef are once again hidden,” said Bullard adding, “Colorado now has the opportunity to correct Congress’ error by reinstating country of origin labeling information for Colorado consumers.”
He said when origin information is hidden from consumers, the meatpackers can unilaterally decide from which of the 20 countries they will source the cattle or beef needed to satisfy the consumers’ undifferentiated demand for beef.
“When meatpackers think prevailing cattle prices are too high, they bring in cheap, undifferentiated imports to suppress domestic cattle prices. And, when they want to increase shareholder profits, they bring in cheap, undifferentiated beef and pass it off to unsuspecting consumers for the same price as domestic beef, using the good names and reputations of U.S. ranchers to accomplish their deception.
“If you vote against this bill, you will be helping the multinational meatpackers exploit producers on one end of the supply chain and consumers on the other,” Bullard cautioned.
“This important bill pitted the interests of independent ranchers and consumer against the interests of multinational meatpackers and huge corporate retailers. The Democratic leadership of Colorado’s House Agriculture Committee demonstrated their allegiance to the latter at the expense of the former. We couldn’t be more disappointed,” Bullard concluded.
Voting to defeat the measure were Democratic Representatives Jeni James Arndt (Chair), Diane Mitsch Bush (Vice Chair), Jessie Danielson, Daneya Esgar, Chris Hansen, Donald Valdez, and Republican Representative Yeulin Willett.
Voting in favor of the measure were Republican Representatives Kimmi Lewis, Jon Becker, Perry Buck, Hugh McKean and Lori Saine, and Democratic Representative Steve Lebsock.