COOL continues to be hot topic for beef producers
The clock is ticking for the United States to come into compliance with the Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, commonly known as COOL. The ongoing dispute between the North American Free Trade Agreement countries -- United States, Mexico, and Canada -- began in December 2008. During the lengthy debate, some cattlemen were concerned that “Product of the U.S.” would change to a “NAFTA-type label.” Some U.S. ranchers asked if the U.S. beef label will continue.
The issue at hand is whether animals exported from Canada to the United States for feed or immediate slaughter can be designated as “Label A.” This label is used for meat derived from animals born, raised, and harvested in the United States. Mexico has joined the legal battle and filed a cross-appeal with the World Trade Organization. For more, see “COOL talks heat up Farm Bill debate,” July 18 Wilson County News. The United States has until May 23 to come into compliance with the World Trade Organization ruling.
In early March, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its recommendations to be in compliance. The proposed rules were published in the March 11 Federal Register. Deadline for comments is Thursday, April 11. See “Comment submission” for more.
One of the major changes involves the printing of different types of labels. Currently, five different labels are used with information about where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. One label is exclusively used for meat of foreign origin, and another label -- “ground meat” -- lists all reasonably possible countries of origin.
The proposed rules would change:
•“Product of the U.S.” to “Born, Raised, and Slaughtered in the U.S.”
•“Product of U.S. and Country X” to “Born in Country X, Raised and Slaughtered in the U.S.”
•“Product of Country X and the U.S.” to “Born and Raised in Country X, Slaughtered in the U.S,” used for animals imported for immediate slaughter here.
According to the Federal Register, “no changes are being proposed to the existing country of origin labeling of imported muscle cuts derived from animals slaughtered in another country. Those products would continue to retain their origin as declared to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the time the products entered the United States through retail sale.”
But one change would not be allowed. The “ground meat” label that allows for “animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States that are commingled during a production day with muscle cut covered commodities derived from animals born in one or more other countries ... designated as ‘Product of the United States, Country X, and Country Y.’” The reason given by the USDA is that “the majority of muscle cut covered commodities are not produced and labeled using the labeling scheme afforded by commingling.”
View the federal posting at http://1.usa.gov/YIiiSr.
Two of the national cattle organizations are on different sides of the fence with COOL.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Scott George on March 8 said, “NCBA has maintained that there is no regulatory fix that can be put in place to bring the current COOL rule into compliance with our World Trade Organization (WTO) obligation or that will satisfy our top two trading partners, Mexico and Canada. ... The proposed amendments will only further hinder our trading relationships with our partners, raise the cost of beef for consumers, and result in retaliatory tariffs being placed on our export products.”
“... The elimination of the ability to co-mingle muscle cuts will only further add to the costs of processing non-U.S. born, raised, and slaughtered products,” George said. “The end result will be hesitancy to process imported product and increased instances of less favorable treatment of foreign product, giving our trading partners a stronger case at the WTO.”
While the NCBA has been opposed to any change, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association continues to work with the USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative. Along with the National Farmers Union, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association released a legal analysis Feb. 12 detailing the options available to come into compliance. This can be found at www.uscattlemen.org.
In short, the analysis “concludes that an effective method of complying with the WTO decision is to simply provide more information and more accurate details to consumers.”
“This should not in any way increase consumers’ retail prices,” said U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Jon Wooster.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association responded positively to the proposed changes in a March 8 press release. The association has “insisted all along that the most effective and efficient methods of coming into compliance with the WTO ruling should not be difficult,” and said the Office of Management and Budget’s review -- prior to its proposed changes, “has determined that the changes are not economically significant, will not increase consumer prices, and will not place any more burden on producers or processors.”
Wooster added that his group “has worked tirelessly and has devoted countless resources to preserving and protecting the original intent of the law and to preventing opponents from further commoditizing U.S. beef.”
Those Interested may submit written comments on the proposed Country of Origin Labeling changes to:
Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.
“Instructions: All submissions received must include the docket number AMS-LS-13-0004; and/or Regulatory Information Number (RIN)0581-AD29 for this rulemaking. Comments may also be submitted to Julie Henderson, Director, COOL Division, Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program, Agricultural Marketing Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); STOP 0216; 1400 Independence Avenue SW., Room 2620-S; Washington, DC 20250-0216. All comments should reference docket number AMS-LS-13-0004 and note the date and page number of this issue of the Federal Register.”
Source: March 11 Federal Register