By Chuck Abbott, April 20, 2017
Under the threat of $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs by Canada and Mexico, Congress repealed a law 16 months ago that required packages of beef and and pork to say where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered. Activist agricultural groups say a revival of the labels would be a complement to President Trump’s America First policy and his complaint of unfair practices by U.S. neighbors.
“Unfortunately, those who want to purchase U.S. beef and pork are unable to identify it due to the repeal of country-of-origin labeling,” said the Organization for Competitive Markets, after applauding Trump’s “Buy American and Hire American” executive order. “OCM calls on the president of the United States to remember that agriculture is the economic driver for rural America and to reinstate country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products.”
The goal of populist livestock groups, mostly in the northern Plains, COOL was a divisive idea from the start. Meatpackers, foodmakers and the largest livestock groups opposed it as a costly bookkeeping and operational nightmare. Consumer groups and the National Farmers Union said it responded to consumers’ rights to know about their food. Canada and Mexico successfully challenged it at WTO as a disguised trade barrier that suppressed cross-border trade in meat and livestock. The WTO authorized retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods if COOL stayed in place.
Populist farm groups have not given up on COOL, however. Longtime proponent R-CALF USA launched a petition drive on the White House’s “We the People” site to ban beef imports from Brazil, hit by a meat-inspection scandal, “until all beef sold in the United States is labeled with its country of origin.” The petition says it “will benefit the largest segment of American agriculture, the U.S. cattle industry, as well as protect American consumers.” As of Wednesday night, 1,386 people signed the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures by May 13 to prompt a White House response.
R-CALF chief executive Bill Bullard said U.S. ranchers were being driven out of business “because global ‘fat cat’ meatpackers lobby Congress to stop our American beef from being labeled.”
Proposals for voluntary labeling of beef and pork have been unsuccessful. There is no legislation pending in Congress to revive COOL. The Republican chairmen of the Senate and House Agriculture committees strongly backed the repeal, which passed Congress in December 2015.
About 8 percent of U.S. red meat consumption is imported meat.