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Agricultural News


Ranch Group Cautions that Voluntary Labeling Dilutes Efforts to Fully Restore Mandatory COOL for Beef

Wed, 30 Oct 2019 08:00:49 CDT

Ranch Group Cautions that Voluntary Labeling Dilutes Efforts to Fully Restore Mandatory COOL for Beef    

In their 2017 country-of-origin labeling (COOL) lawsuit filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), R-CALF USA and the Cattle Producers of Washington alleged the agency's COOL regulations for imported beef were inconsistent with the long-standing Tariff Act of 1930. The Tariff Act requires imported beef sold in the United States to retain its foreign country-of-origin label to the consumer, such as "Product of Uruguay," unless the beef is substantially transformed in the United States after importation and before sale to consumers.

According to R-CALF USA, however, when the USDA wrote its regulation known as the 1989 Foreign Products Rule, it conveniently omitted the substantial transformation standard. As a result, the USDA determined it has the authority to allow imported beef to be mislabeled as a USA product if it is subject to even minimal processing, such as unwrapping and rewrapping.

Based on its interpretation of the 1989 Foreign Products Rule, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued its Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book that currently allows the mislabeling of foreign beef even when no substantial transformation occurs.

According to R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard, "Merely correcting the USDA's inappropriate standard for determining what beef is eligible for a "Product of USA" label will not restore the level of product differentiation that United States cattle producers need to distinguish their superior beef product from foreign beef products in the marketplace.

"For that they need full restoration of mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling (mCOOL), and nothing less," he said.

The mCOOL law passed in 2002 sent the 1989 Foreign Products Rule into hibernation for over a decade. The mCOOL law superseded the old rule by requiring imported beef to retain its foreign label through retail sale, meaning all the way to the consumer. It also required all beef processed in the U.S. to be labeled as to where the cattle were born, raised, and slaughtered.

The mCOOL law, therefore, prevented meat merely packaged in the U.S. from being labeled "Made in the USA" and "Product of the USA," and ensured that imported beef would be labeled "Product of Uruguay," "Product of Australia" or the like. Importantly, for beef slaughtered in the U.S., general origin labels were replaced with the more accurate labels denoting where the beef had been born, raised, and slaughtered. For example: "Born, Raised, and Slaughtered in the United States," or "Born in Mexico, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States."

Bullard said the mCOOL law provided the level of product differentiation that U.S. cattle producers need to effectively compete against cheaper foreign beef by:
requiring all packers to inform retailers and consumers as to where beef from cattle slaughtered in the United States was born, raised, and slaughtered.
requiring all imported beef to retain its foreign label through retail sale.

"Without these two important elements, U.S. producers will not be able to effectively compete against imported beef," he said.

Bullard said efforts focused only on fixing the interpretation of the 1989 Foreign Products Rule by establishing a voluntary U.S. label for products born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States fall well short of what the U.S. cattle industry needs to effectively compete against imports of both beef and cattle.
                                                     
"The first insurmountable problem with such an effort is that it establishes a voluntary labeling regime for big meatpackers who have clearly signaled they don't want to differentiate products based on origin.

"The second problem is that it does not require any of the three billion pounds of annually imported beef or the beef from the two million head of imported cattle each year to be labeled as to origin.

"The third problem, and perhaps the most important, is that it redirects the industry's limited resources away from efforts to fully restore mCOOL and may permanently prevent our industry from fully restoring mCOOL for beef."

Bullard said the sudden push to address only the FSIS standard for authorizing voluntary labeling is a classic strategy of divide and conquer.

"R-CALF USA will not be distracted by such an effort and remains steadfast in its strategy to build support for legislation, either stand-alone or within the ongoing USMCA (U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement), to fully restore mCOOL for beef, and we'll stop at nothing less," he concluded.

 

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