by Kayla Sargent
As the third prong of his so-called “Rancher Relief Plan,” Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) recently reintroduced a resolution supporting mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (mCOOL) along with Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD). Bringing back mCOOL for beef products would provide more transparency for American consumers and provide American producers with a competitive edge, a press release from Senator Tester said.
“It’s no secret that Montana ranchers raise the finest beef in the world, but American consumers have no way of knowing if the steak they’re getting at the supermarket comes from Absarokee or Australia,” Senator Tester added. “It’s clear that Americans want to buy American-made products if they have the option, and country of origin labeling gives Montana producers the upper hand by showing that their cattle were raised within our borders, not halfway around the world.”
Joining the pair of bipartisan Senators in requesting the U.S. Senate to urge President Trump and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to implement mCOOL were Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), Senator John Thune (R-SD), and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).
First and foremost, the resolution emphasizes that not only is U.S.-raised beef “the best in the world,” but that consumers have the right to knowingly purchase American products. It suggests that “ranchers, workers, and consumers” would all benefit from mCOOL.
Additionally, Senator Tester wrote that in the 2008 Food, Conservation and Energy Act, Congress “overwhelmingly supported” COOL as “87 percent of consumers want to know the country of origin” of the meat they purchase. When COOL was appealed in 2015, according to the resolution, products born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. lost their competitive advantage.
The resolution suggests that the current “Product of USA” label is misleading and “there is no standardized definition of the term ‘truth in labeling.’” According to the Senator Tester, the U.S. has the highest production standards and today’s technology would make it “possible to accurately and efficiently identify the origin of beef without costly segregation of imported and domestic commodities.”
Seeing so, the resolution would strongly urge President Trump and the USTR “to enter into the trade negotiations necessary to implement mandatory country of origin labeling for beef in order to allow consumers to make an informed and free choice about where their food comes from.”
“During these unprecedented and challenging times, Montana producers and ranchers are struggling to keep their operations going,” Senator Daines said. “That’s why it is important we pursue negotiations with our trading partners to include country of origin labeling. We must support ranchers in Montana and across the U.S. and ensure that only beef made and slaughtered in America receive the ‘Product of the USA’ label.”
Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) offered their support for the resolution and their appreciation for their state Senators making a bipartisan effort on behalf of Montana producers. The organization has “long been an advocate of COOL,” according to a press release.
“Our members have expressed enormous support for a program which allows for the preservation and protection of beef using the ‘USA’ label and allows consumers to have a clear choice between ‘USA’ beef and ‘Non-USA’ beef,” MSGA President Fred Wacker said.
On the other hand, R-CALF USA, a long-time proponent of mCOOL, said their group was disappointed to see “yet a second resolution” rather than legislation to reinstate mCOOL. R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said his group has worked “aggressively” to find Congressional representatives to introduce an mCOOL bill. In the recent Demand USA Beef campaign, launched online in late April, over 375,000 petition signers urged President Trump to “immediately pass mCOOL for beef, pork, and dairy.”
Bullard explained that with U.S. packing plants closing or slowing production due to COVID-19 outbreaks, American producers are “denied access to their own markets and have been for several weeks.” In the meantime, “packers and other importers are continuing to import tens of thousands of foreign cattle into the U.S. each week from Canada and Mexico.” Then, the beef harvested from the foreign cattle is “deceptively sold to American consumers as if it was produced by hard-working American cattle farmers and ranchers.”
Bullard called the action of displacing American producers’ access to the market with that of foreign cattle “unconscionable” and said the only way to allow consumers to support the American food supply chain through the purchase of U.S. beef is through mCOOL. He said the recently introduced resolution “will not provide U.S. cattle producers any relief from the rising tide of imported cattle and beef arriving from about 20 foreign countries.”
SIDEBAR: (6 inches)
Senator Tester’s Three-Part Rancher Relief Plan
Over the past week, Senator Tester (D-MT) has been rolling out pieces of his three-pronged “Rancher Relief Plan” in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
First, he introduced the New Markets for State Inspected Meat and Poultry Act that would allow meat products from state-inspected facilities to be sold across state lines. Last week’s Western Ag Reporter covered the Act.
Just one day later, he introduced bipartisan legislation that would require meatpacking plants that laughter over 150,000 head per year to purchase at least fifty percent of their weekly volume on the ‘spot’ market, thus increasing transparency and competition. See this week’s top story for more information.
The mCOOL resolution was the last piece of his plan to “help provide certainty to Montana’s small and medium sized cow calf operators.”