As the American agricultural community eagerly awaits President Donald Trump’s signature on the trade deal between the United States, Canada and Mexico, another significant approval is uppermost in the minds of farmers and ranchers across the United States — the reinstatement of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).
The 2002 Farm Bill amended COOL requirements set in place in 1946 in the Agricultural Marketing Act. Simply put, retailers needed to notify consumers of the country of origin of certain commodities by affixing a country of origin label.
But comment periods came and went adjusting the official starting date of COOL. The 2008 Farm Bill further amended the COOL process by adding more commodities and defining COOL according to where production of the certain commodities took place.
A date for the final COOL rule was set in 2009 amid serious opposition. For the next several years, constant pressure was received about what some believed was an unlawful and unconstitutional law.
A lawsuit was filed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council and Canadian and Mexican cattle associations in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, denouncing the unfair law. In addition, complaints from the World Trade Organization were received, but COOL was upheld in U.S courts.
The pressure continued and in 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to repeal mandatory COOL, and in 2016 it was removed from the Agricultural Marketing Act regulations.
R-CALF USA has been urging members to contact Trump and ask him to add COOL to the new trade agreement. It’s a shot in the dark, but cattlemen said it’s time to stand up and fight for their industry. One might ask why is it important to not only U.S. cattle producers but consumers as well.
“In 2015, cattle prices were at an all-time high,” said Joe Pongratz of O’Neill. “After COOL was removed, cattle prices have never recovered and farmers and ranchers continue to struggle.”
Pongratz is a Holt County farmer and a R-CALF USA member. He is also concerned about food security for cattle producers and consumers alike. In today’s world of infectious diseases, contagious viruses and contamination, he believes everyone needs to be more cautious.
“We raise quality beef in the United States and have no health issues in our cattle herds,” Pongratz said. “So we all need to think about the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) cases in Canada and tuberculosis and hoof and mouth disease in South America. We don’t want that here.”
U.S. meatpacking plants are not necessarily owned by U.S. business interests. Ownership many times is in the hands of business interests in other countries, who use it as a way to import meat from countries like Brazil, repackage the product here in the United States, maybe mix it with U.S. beef and call it “Made in the USA.”
This product then can be priced lower and sold as homegrown beef, cutting retail sales. And consumers know no difference because it is sold in the meat counter with U.S. beef without any markings.
“We know we cannot continue with the imbalance of tariffs,” said Roland Paddock, a director of Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska (ICON) and also an R-CALF USA member. “American farmers and their operations have been hurt, just as the nation’s economy has, and farmers have had massive hemorrhaging — we need time to heal. We need better prices.”
Paddock believes Trump has made changes to boost the agricultural community. He made changes in the EPA regulations for water and put a hold on electronic tagging in cattle herds.
“There seems to be a stronghold in the cattle business,” Paddock said. “Somehow the meatpackers have influenced senators and congressmen to believe COOL is a bad program.”
Not only would COOL offer protection for U.S. cattlemen but also for U.S. consumers. When buying beef, they may be assured they are buying quality U.S. beef — if that’s what they want. In the produce section, vegetables and fruit are labeled for their origin, and even clothing is labeled by the country that manufactures it. But not in the meat department.
Pongratz and Paddock would like to see consumers demand U.S. beef and request it from their butcher.
“Trump is all about ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ and this is a perfect example,” Pongratz said. “We can hope he begins to see through those close to him who are advising him and support an American homegrown product.”