November 5, 2019
US cattle organisation concerned over loophole in country-of-origin labelling for meat
US beef labeling issues gained attention on Capitol Hill last week, drawing mixed reactions from cattle producers.
Senator. John Tester introduced a resolution on October 30 calling for congressional support for country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork.
The same day, Republican Senators Mike Rounds and John Thune of South Dakota introduced the Beef Integrity Act to restrict the use of "Product of the USA" in voluntary labeling to beef from cattle that are born, raised and slaughtered in the US.
Both measures are supported by US Cattlemen's Association and R-CALF USA, but they raise red flags for National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
For USCA, it's a matter of truth in labeling, Kenny Graner, a North Dakota rancher and USCA president, said.
Since country-of origin (COOL) was repealed for beef in 2015, the label means nothing. Beef from other countries can be salted, cooked, cut or simply repackaged in the United States and be labeled as a product of the US under USDA voluntary labeling policy, he said.
The same is true for beef from imported cattle slaughtered and processed in the U.S.
"Processors can just slap a (US) label on it," he said.
The US imports beef from 20 countries, which have lower standards of production and processing. The US also imports cattle for beef production from Canada and Mexico, he said.
Graner said the deceptive labeling of those products puts US cattle producers at a disadvantage.
He maintained that the US has the highest standards in the world for genetics, production and processing, and that makes a difference in the taste of beef. If consumers had the ability to taste that difference, USCA believes it would increase demand for true US beef, he said.
In October, USCA filed a petition with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service to restrict labels of "Product of USA" and "Made in USA" to beef from cattle born, raised and harvested in the US.
The Beef Integrity Act is putting light on the petition to get FSIS to act to stop deceptive labeling, he said.
"Right now, there's no oversight, period … the label means nothing," he said.
USCA's first priority is to stop the deception in voluntary labeling, but the ultimate goal is mandatory country-of-origin labeling.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association, however, contends a return to COOL would have costly consequences.
Such a move would subject the US industry to US$1 billion in retaliatory tariffs, Ethan Lane, NCBA vice president of government affairs, said.
The World Trade Organization ruled four times that COOL for beef and pork violated US trade obligations and discriminated against imported cattle and hogs from Canada and imported cattle from Mexico. It authorized US$1 billion in retaliatory tariffs in 2015, resulting in congressional repeal of the law for beef and pork.
Those tariffs would be immediately effective if COOL were reinstated, Lane said.
USCA's Graner disagrees.
COOL is in effect for other food products -- such as nuts, fruits, poultry and fish - and the WTO issues with beef could be corrected, he said.
As for the Beef Integrity Act, NCBA's concern is it would trigger the same result as COOL even though it doesn't involve a mandatory label, Lane said.
NCBA also feels the bill is premature. Rounds and Thune were unable to get much data on the use of labels, he said.
NCBA is working on the same issue, gathering more information to understand the scope of labeling practices being used, he said.
That information is needed "before asking government to further regulate our industry," he said.
- Capital Press