Beef lobby loses push to repeal labeling rules
By: David Rogers
January 27, 2014 12:25 PM EST
The powerful beef industry lobby lost Monday in its bid to repeal country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rules as part of the new farm bill being negotiated in Congress.
Shortly after, a top official came out swinging, putting the blame squarely on Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and vowing to work to defeat the measure, which could come to the House floor as early as Wednesday.
“We’re opposed to the bill and Debbie Stabenow is to blame. She’s the one who said no,” said Colin Woodall, a vice president for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. When a reporter suggested the NCBF would be “breaking the heart” of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) if it took down the farm bill now, Woodall didn’t back away. “We’re going to work it hard,” he said.
Canada and Mexico have raised trade complaints about the implementation of the 2002 law, which has reduced the prices paid by American packers for their cattle. Texas ranchers and feed lots, which purchase young feeder cattle from Mexico, are affected by the same discounts, and if Canada were to retaliate, American fruit growers fear they would be caught in the same fight.
This concern has fed into a major effort by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Republican allies in the House, like Lucas, to repeal COOL as part of the final farm bill conference. But this campaign met strong resistance from the National Farmers Union and independent cow-calf ranchers with support from Stabenow and others in the Senate.
Many in the agriculture community had hoped to see some compromise because both sides in the COOL fight are important to the success of the larger bill. The beef lobby also lost on a second regulatory issue, and Woodall’s statement reflects the sting felt by a lobby which more often gets its way in Washington.
The COOL decision came as negotiators pushed toward a final agreement to be filed in the House Monday night. With more success, the coalition has been able to bridge its differences over a new margin insurance program for dairy farmers.
Preliminary cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office show it will be far more expensive than the Dairy Security Act first in the Senate bill. And Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) had expressed alarm that it would lead to excessive payouts to large dairy operations.
A spokesman for Leahy said he had first proposed a $1 million net payment cap over the weekend but this met resistance from the House. Leahy then proposed and got Monday a new “third tier” of premium rates for milk production over 40 million pounds or herds of 2000 cows.
Leahy’s office said the language also would direct Secretary Tom Vilsack to determine appropriate and “actuarially sound” premiums for the purpose of ensuring long-term stability in program costs and milk supply.
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