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Beef labeling becoming a hot topic on the Hill

Progressive Cattle Editor Carrie Veselka Published on 22 November 2019

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) recently introduced a resolution to reinstate country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for beef and pork. COOL labeling was repealed for beef and pork in 2015 and has since been a topic of interest for American producers.

Currently, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does not require that beef be born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. in order to carry a Product of the USA label. This loophole allows beef from livestock born and raised in foreign countries to be labeled Product of the USA as long as the beef undergoes additional processing at a processing plant in the U.S.

The main aim of Tester’s resolution is to “support legislation to reinstate country-of-origin labeling for pork and beef to allow consumers to make an informed and free choice about where their food comes from.”

“Our farmers and ranchers produce the best agricultural products in the world,” Tester said in a statement. “Consumers want to buy those American-made products, and country-of-origin labeling lets producers show their product was raised right here in America – and ensures folks can make informed choices about the food they buy.”

The resolution has met with whole-hearted support from some livestock industry groups and hesitancy from others.

“Consumers are increasingly seeking out more information on the products they choose to feed their families,” USCA Director Emeritus Leo McDonnell said in a statement. “The U.S. produces the highest-quality, safest and most ecoconscious beef in the world. U.S. cattle producers deserve the opportunity to showcase their product in the retail marketplace.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Policy Division Vice Chairman Todd Wilkinson urged caution, saying that while NCBA backs voluntary COOL, having the mandatory designation reinstated could be costly for U.S. cattle producers.

Sens. John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) have also introduced the U.S. Beef Integrity Act, a bill that would ensure the “Product of the USA” label only goes to beef and beef products exclusively derived from one or more animals born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. According to a statement from Wilkinson, this bill provides more of a middle ground between the current directive of the World Trade Organization and a full reinstatement of the original COOL guidelines.

Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president, government affairs, also urged caution in a statement regarding the U.S. Beef Integrity Act. “The creation of government policy or regulation is a complex process that requires a thorough understanding of the problem and the involvement of many stakeholders. As our industry is fully aware, any rush toward government regulation can create unintended consequences that takes years to unwind.”  end mark

Carrie Veselka
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