CHEYENNE – A House committee has advanced a bill that would require retailers and wholesalers to mark beef with its country of origin if the beef is from the United States or more than one country.
However, it’s unknown how the law would be enforced, if the law would violate federal regulations or if the beef industry would be able to comply.
Still, supporters of House Bill 198 said the bill will help consumers identify where their food comes from, and a majority of House Agriculture Committee members voted in favor of sending the bill to the full House of Representatives.
Until recently, stores had to list the country of origin for fresh beef and pork, just like other meats, as well as fruits and vegetables under the federal Country of Origin Labeling law, known as COOL.
However, Canada and Mexico challenged the U.S. before the World Trade Organization, saying the law undermined the meat trade between the countries.
Ultimately, the World Trade Organization agreed, which led to Congress repealing labeling requirents for beef and pork.
The Wyoming law – along with similar proposals in other states – seeks to reinstate the provision for beef at the state level.
“If Wyoming is not standing alone in this … there’s less of an excuse for a Wal-Mart or whoever to balk at this,” said Rep. Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle, the bill’s lead sponsor.
The bill also had support from the Wyoming Farm Bureau.
“This is in line with our members’ policy,” said Brett Moline of the Wyoming Farm Bureau. “Research has shown consumers do want to know where their products come from.”
But questions remain as to whether the law can actually be enforced or if it is compatible with existing laws.
“We are afraid we simply can’t enforce this statute,” said Stacia Berry of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.
Berry said while the department is neither in favor of nor against the bill, the department does have concerns about enforcement and whether the law could violate interstate commerce provisions in the U.S. Constitution.
Those in the beef industry also questioned how the law would work, with some citing how cattle are moved across state – or even international – lines, including to be slaughtered and processed.
“I agree we need to know where products come from, but the beef industry just isn’t made that way,” said Rob Hendry, a rancher.
Committee members, though, still liked the idea and decided to move the bill forward.
Reps. Stan Blake, D-Green River; Aaron Clausen, R-Douglas; Chuck Gray, R-Casper; Hans Hunt, R-Newcastle; and Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, voted in favor of the bill.
Reps. Bill Haley, R-Centennial; Bill Henderson, R-Cheyenne; Dan Laursen, R-Powell; and Robert McKim, R-Afton, voted against.