COOL continues to divide cattle organizations
‘The fact that almost all retail beef in our stores is currently labeled U.S. origin is further evidence that consumers prefer our products.’
-- Bill Hyman, executive director of the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas
Ask any cattleman or agriculture-related organization to explain Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) or how it should be administered, and the answers will vary. This labeling law, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service and went into effect in 2009, has been a topic of hot discussion on the state, national, and international levels for years.
According to the USDA website, COOL “... is a labeling law that requires retailers ... [to] notify their customers with information regarding the source of certain foods.” Some of the commodities include muscle cut and ground meats.
The Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas (ICA) has supported mandatory COOL for more than 25 years.
“We believe that Texas ranchers deserve to have their beef labeled ‘born, raised, and processed in the United States,’” said Bill Hyman, executive director of the ICA. “Texas producers work hard to make sure their beef is the best quality and safest beef in the world. The fact that almost all retail beef in our stores is currently labeled U.S. origin is further evidence that consumers prefer our products.”
He said misinformation from big corporations about COOL hurts ranchers and opens “ ... the door to mystery meat from unknown foreign suppliers.”
See related article, this page, about the local Independent Cattlemen’s Association chapter’s fund-raising efforts for the COOL Defense Fund.
COOL is currently being challenged in court.
One of the nine plaintiffs, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), outlined its stance in a June 7 press release.
“Cattlemen and women have long known MCOOL [Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling] not only violates our international trade obligations, but also that it provides no value to the consumer. It is a failed experiment in boosting beef demand and a tremendously successful experiment in creating a trade barrier,” said NCBA President Scott George.
While the NCBA does not oppose a “voluntary” COOL program, George identified the program as “a marketing tool not a food safety program.”
“And as a marketing tool, George said, “it needs to be run by beef producers and processors, not codified into law or administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
NCBA and seven others filed a lawsuit July 8 against the USDA to stop the implementation of COOL. Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations has joined the suit, as well.
Four national organizations, including the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farmers Union, were granted a motion to “intervene in full” in the COOL lawsuit as of Aug. 20.
Since then, another four groups, including R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America), filed court papers in U.S. District Court Aug. 23 to allow them to join, in support of COOL.
R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said, “Marketplace competition can no longer occur without COOL. In this global market, more imports from more countries are entering the United States each year and foreign meatpackers are trying to capture market share away from U.S. family farmers and ranchers. COOL allows U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers to highlight their product to U.S. consumers whom we believe will choose our exclusively U.S. produced product if they can identify it in the market. That’s what this fight is all about: Farmers and ranchers want competition while the meatpackers and their allies want to control the market.”
According to a Consumers Federation of America survey: •“90 percent of the 1,000 adults favored requiring food sellers to indicate on the package label the country of origin of fresh meat they sell.
•“87 percent support labels that detail the animals’ place of birth, raised, and processed or harvested.”