COOL controversy heating up

While Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) may have sounded like a great idea to everyone when first proposed several years ago, the ongoing debate and ultimate specifics have been very divisive.

This spring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a final rule regarding the mandatory COOL, which once again stirred up the debate that has now reached the international stage.

“We are deeply disappointed with this short-sighted action by the USDA. Our largest trading partners have already said that these provisions will not bring the United States into compliance with our World Trade Organization obligations and will result in increased discrimination against imported products and in turn retaliatory tariffs or other authorized trade sanctions,” said Scott George, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) president. “As we said in comments submitted to USDA, ‘any retaliation against U.S. beef would be devastating for our producers.’ While trying to make an untenable mandate fit with our international trade obligations, USDA chose to set up U.S. cattle producers for financial losses. Moreover, this rule will place a greater record-keeping burden on producers, feeders and processors through the born, raised and harvested label.”

George noted that NCBA does not oppose voluntary labeling as a marketing tool to distinguish product and add value, but “USDA is not the entity that we want marketing beef.”

A group of producer and packer organizations including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), American Meat Institute (AMI), Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Pork Producers Council, North American Meat Association (NAMA), American Association of Meat Processors and Southwest Meat Association have since filed suit against the USDA over the issue. In response, another faction of agricultural organizations, including the National Farmers Union (NFU), the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and R-CALF has decided to intervene in the suit in support of the USDA’s final rule on COOL.

“We strongly support USDA’s final rule because it addresses the issues previously brought forth to the World Trade Organization and preserves the consumer’s right to know where their food comes from,” said Roger Johnson, NFU president. “NFU is joining with the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association in efforts to defend COOL. We are thankful for USCA getting the process started. We have fought long and hard for the implementation of COOL, and will continue to do so for as long as it takes.”

Those in favor of COOL feel that it gives more advantage to producers, rather than the meatpacking industry.

“The reason the NCBA and NPPC are fighting to help the meatpackers exploit consumers by attacking COOL is because they both have meatpackers seated on their governing boards, making them meatpacker trade groups rather than producer trade groups,” said Bill Bullard, R-CALF USA CEO. “By not allowing consumers to know where their meat was produced, meatpackers can undermine competition and unilaterally decide from what country to source their livestock. After all, without COOL consumers cannot initiate any competitive demand signals for livestock from the United States or from any other country. That privilege is bestowed exclusively on the meatpacker when COOL is not available.”

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