Miss COOL? Buy fresh, buy local, by Norbert Brauer

Miss COOL? Buy fresh, buy local

Hancock County Journal-Pilot

Norbert Brauer

Jan. 13, 2016

Brazil, Mexico, China, Hungary, Korea, Nicaragua and Poland – these are just a handful of the 35 countries that are currently eligible to export meat to the United States.

Until a few weeks ago, beef or pork products from any of these 35 countries were identified by a label as being either born, raised, slaughtered or processed in a particular country. This identification was called Country-of-Origin Labeling. COOL made it easy for consumers to choose whether or not they wished to purchase and consume meat or meat products imported from other countries. The label also ensured that consumers knew where their food came from – in exactly the same way as consumers can today still see where their underwear, stove, car or cell phone is manufactured.

The law was struck down in late December last year, however. This means that muscle cuts as well as ground beef and pork no longer need to carry a label showing where the meat comes from. This takes away consumers’ right to know where the beef or pork they plan on eating comes from. Groups like Farmers Union fought hard to keep the labeling law on the books, but in the end the battle was lost by a World Trade Organization ruling.

The end result is that the deep pockets of enormous meat companies and pressure from trade “allies” won the war against American consumers’ right to choose what they – and their children – want to eat. Clearly, the very lawmakers elected by the people to work for them, feel that the interests of large corporations (meat sales amounted to $186 billion in 2014) trump the rights of you and I.

To add insult to injury, there exists no law to oversee labeling. This means that pork labeled with a Product of the USA sticker could have been born and raised in England, while ribeye steaks or briskets with no label denoting country-of-origin may have originated in Australia, Canada or Mexico. This is a great victory for a virtually completely centralized industry where a handful of companies control virtually the entire world’s production, processing and distribution of pork and beef.

None of this is fixable. COOL most likely will never be part of the consumer landscape again. Think about this for a moment: Today, a cut of pork or beef that was produced, slaughtered and packed 10,000 miles away – where U.S. Food Safety Rules and Regulations don’t matter – can be shipped and sold more cheaply than, say, a ham that was produced, slaughtered and packaged 10 miles from where you live.

In a world like this, you and your family don’t win, and local farmers certainly don’t.

So what can you do? Step outside the system. Buy your meat direct from farmers and farmer’s markets, or shop at stores that buy from local farmers and producers. Buy fresh and buy local. In that way, you know the origin of the product and sometimes even the person who produced it.

The Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Buy Fresh, Buy Local guide is a great online resource listing independent family farmers that offer a range of meat and meat products as well as vegetables, fruit and other products. The guide can be found at www.buyfreshbuylocalcentralillinois.org.

Consumers in Illinois now also have access to a useful new mobile app developed by a non-profit organization called Crate Free Illinois. The app lists and maps scores of local family farmers that raise beef, pork, chicken and eggs in the traditional manner. That means these animals are raised humanely and cage-free by farmers who understand animal stewardship. Finding a farmer close to you has never been easier – whether you live in the heart of the city or in a rural area. Download the “Crate Free Illinois” app – available for iOS and Android – and make a friend of a local family farmer near you.

Sure, your steak, sausage or chicken may cost a little more. But like most things, the little extra you pay today will prove to be an investment tomorrow.

Norbert Brauer is president of the Illinois Farmers Union.

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