April 5, 2013

USDA seeks feedback for revision of meat labelling policy


The USDA has requested livestock producers and consumers to weigh in on the department's recently proposed revision of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) policy.

The USDA action was sparked by complaints from Canada and Mexico that existing COOL law discriminated against foreign meat products. Both countries took their complaint to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the entity overseeing COOL compliance.

Bill Bullard, chief executive officer for Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA), said that the WTO is in agreement with the discrimination accusation and mandated COOL policy revision.

"WTO said existing COOL laws required more information from livestock owners than was reflected on the labels," Bullard said. "Their ruling stated that the burden of record keeping on the livestock supply chain in combination with the minimal amount of information on the label constituted what they perceive as discrimination."

The proposed USDA revision of COOL law recommends more specific origin information about the meat product. If approved, labels under the revised law would state the origins of the livestock.

"Under the existing law, if packers mingled imported cattle from Canada or Mexico with US cattle, the meat label could state that the meat was from the US, Canada and Mexico," Bullard said. "That really doesn't tell consumers what country the meat came from. R-Calf likes the USDA proposal and we hope both livestock producers and consumers will send written comments to USDA to let them know whether or not they favour the change."

US Cattlemen Executive Vice President, Jess Peterson, said the provision for allowing packers to label meat in that manner was one of the agreements the original COOL committee accepted in order to establish labelling law.

"We didn't see that as a concession, but a means of flexibility that allowed labelling negotiations to move forward," Peterson said. "At those original meetings, we did what we could to meet Canada and Mexico's requests to find common ground."

Nebraska Cattlemen Executive Vice President, Michael Kelsey, has concerns that USDA's proposed revisions will not satisfy Canadian and Mexican beef exporters concerns.

"They've threatened retaliation with tariffs on US beef imports," Kelsey said. "If that happened, it could increase beef industry volatility to an even greater degree. I believe there is a way we can give consumers the information they desire without upsetting our two largest beef trading partners."

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