COOL: It’s back

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It’s been more than a decade since mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) for meat products turned up in the 2002 Farm Bill, and the issue remains as contentious as ever. The latest round in the COOL debate began last week, when USDA issued a new proposed rule for meat labeling, intended to strengthen the policy and bring it into compliance with a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling.

After numerous delays (see COOL timeline below), the interim final rule for meat labeling became effective in September 2008. Soon after, Canada and Mexico filed complaints with the WTO claiming the law violated existing trade agreements and provided less favorable treatment to imported cattle and hogs. The WTO ruled against the United States, which appealed and lost, leaving USDA with a May 23, 2013, to bring the COOL rule into compliance with the WTO ruling.

Last Friday, USDA announced its proposed rule, which will be subject to public comments until April 11, 2013.

The proposed rule would require labels on muscle cuts of beef and other meats to specify where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered, and would remove the allowance for commingling of muscle cuts.

The new proposed rule has reignited the pro and con arguments over COOL that have persisted for the past decade. Proponents of mandatory COOL believe labeling will provide a competitive advantage for domestically produced meat and satisfy consumer demand for source information. Opponents say mandatory COOL simply adds costs and paperwork across the production chain without providing any tangible benefit to consumers or higher prices for U.S. producers.

“The proposed rule is even more onerous, disruptive and expensive than the current regulation implemented in 2009,” says American Meat Institute president J. Patrick Boyle. “Complying with this proposal, should it become mandatory, will create more excessive costs that will be passed onto consumers.  An absurd example of one of the proposed changes is this: a plant or grocery retailer that currently labels its product, “Product of the U.S.” would now have to change the labels on its packages to read, “Born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.

“The bottom line: mandatory country-of-origin labeling is conceptually flawed, in our view and in the eyes of our trading partners. The anti-free trade objectives of this labeling scheme’s proponents are no secret.  Requiring us now to provide even more information at a greater cost when evidence shows consumers, by and large, are not reading the current country-of-origin information is an ill-conceived public policy option.”

NCBA also opposes the proposed rule. “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,” says NCBA president Scott George. “The requirement that all products sold at retail be labeled with information noting the birth, raising and slaughter will place additional recordkeeping burdens on processors and retailers, contrary to the administration’s assertion. Moreover, this combined with the elimination of the ability to comingle muscle cuts, will only further add to the costs of processing non-US born, raised and slaughtered products.”
R-CALF USA on the other hand, has traditionally supported mandatory COOL and pushed for tougher labeling laws. In November 2012, the group filed an amended lawsuit alleging the provisions in the COOL rule that currently allow meat derived exclusively from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. to be mislabeled with a multiple-country label is unlawful.

"If the Secretary finalizes this proposed COOL rule, many of our concerns expressed in our lawsuit will be addressed," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard adding, "It's just too bad the Secretary allowed Canada, Mexico and the domestic meatpacking and meat retailing industry to prevent him from doing what he knew was the right thing to do four years ago."

"We support this proposed rule and encourage every consumer to send comments to USDA before the April 11, 2013 deadline to explain the value that COOL information is to them when they are purchasing meat for their families," concluded Bullard.

COOL timeline

2002 – The 2002 Farm Bill amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require retailers to notify their customers of the origin of covered commodities. Covered commodities included muscle cuts of beef.

2004 –Congress delays implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until September 30, 2006.

2005 – Interim final rule for mandatory COOL for fish and shellfish became effective on April 4.

2006 – Congress again delayed mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until September 30, 2008,

August 1, 2008 – USDA publishes interim final rule for the remaining covered commodities.

September 30, 2008 – Interim final rule takes effect.

December 1, 2008 – Canada files complaint with the WTO over U.S. COOL regulations. Mexico joins in the complaint on December 12.

January 15, 2009 – USDA publishes final COOL rule, to become effective in 60 days.

March 16, 2009 – Final COOL regulations became effective.

November 18, 2011 – The WTO rules in favor of Canada and Mexico in their complaint against U.S. COOL rules. 

March 23, 2012 – The United States appeals the ruling.

June 29, 2012 – The Appellate Body of the WTO affirms the earlier ruling.

March 11, 2013 – The USDA publishes its new proposed rule in the Federal Register.

April 13, 2013 – Deadline for public comments on the proposed rule.

May 23, 2013 – Deadline for United States to bring COOL rules into compliance with WTO ruling.

Learn more at USDA’s COOL website.


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Robert    
Arkansas  |  March, 12, 2013 at 07:37 AM

As an American, I like to have the ability to purchase American products whenever possible. I also raise cattle. I don't have a problem with a little extra paperwork to know when at the grocery store I'm helping out my local Americans. Anyone with a problem with it has simply let greed overtake their pride in being an American. And for that, they should be ashamed.

R Bennet    
Texas  |  March, 12, 2013 at 09:10 AM

If you buy imported steers, say from Mexico or Canada,finish them in a Texas feedlot with American Corn,by products and meds, and later on send them to market, what are they? Canadian or American products. COOL is plain silly and has nothing to do with pride, it's a business deal Aren't we all about bussines?

Ray    
Arizona  |  March, 12, 2013 at 09:12 AM

Well Robert, it sounds good, but if you are an American rancher and you buy a set of Mexican calves born 50 miles from your ranch in Mexico, Lets say they weighed 350 lbs. You will pasture them from March through November (7 months). Now he weighs 700 lbs (350 lbs US pounds-350 Mexican pounds). You sell him to a feedlot and they feed him to 1,300 lbs. That is an additional 7 months, the calf is now (950 lbs US pounds-350 lbs Mexican pounds) and he has been in our system, under our guidelines for 14 months. Is he a US product or a Mexican product? Today he can not be harvested comingled with 100% US cattle. He has to be harvested in a separate day or time. How do this protect our consumer or take away from the pride of using our resources to produce a wholesome product??

mark perrin    
cherokee ia.  |  March, 12, 2013 at 09:14 AM

go to your local hardware or farm store everything is labelled as to origin, you would think knowing where the food is produced would be more important than knowing where your jeans are made.

Jack Hunt    
houston, texas  |  March, 12, 2013 at 10:40 AM

Let's not be stupid. This has everything to do with trade restrictions and nothing to do with informing consumers. They don't care. Rather we have created a data tracking and collection system that does nothing but raise costs for the producers to provide information to be people who don't care as long as the overall system is functioning. This is all about bigotry and trade and nothing about food safety or sourcing. Bet most consumers would be more concerned about horsemeat in the hamburger than meat from a Mexican born steer that might have spent 30% of his life in Mexico and the rest including processing in the US.

Kenny    
North Dakota  |  March, 12, 2013 at 11:01 AM

I am one of those that likes to know where my products come from. It's been my experience that when I buy products or equipment, the products that are made in the USA are better quality...even if I have to pay more. ~When you question consumers, they would prefer to buy beef born and raised in the USA as we have the highest health standards. ~~A couple of you commented on "greed". Isn't it greedy to buy a cheap Mexican calf just to fatten up in the US and sell it as US beef? If it was born in Mexico.......it's Mexican beef.

Ian Thorleifson    
Manitoba  |  March, 12, 2013 at 11:16 AM

One detail to consider - most consumers not only do not care WHERE an animal was born, raised or slaughtered - they do not want to know that this meat they hold in their hands and eat WAS Born, Raised and Slaughtered!

Ernie    
South Dakota  |  March, 12, 2013 at 11:52 AM

Agreed Kenny!

Ken    
Missouri  |  March, 12, 2013 at 12:02 PM

I am a cow-calf producer, and backgrounder and I like the idea of labeling proposed by the USDA rule. Where are the polls results indicating that Americans "don't care" where beef comes from, that several are referring? Sure it will require some record keeping, has anyone actually caluclated the additional cost to do so? How much will it add to the price of a pound of hamburger? I buy products, and I do like to know whether they are an import or not, and it does affect my decisions. I was asked by a buyer to certify with signature that the yearlings I sold him met his criteria. I had no problem with meeting that.

Al    
Nebraska  |  March, 12, 2013 at 05:01 PM

As a feeder of only US born and raised cattle, I do not agree that mandatory cool will accomplish what some small minded cowmen think it will do. No wander some have their name on their belts, so they know who they are when they pull their heads out of their butts.

Kenny    
North Dakota  |  March, 12, 2013 at 10:59 PM

Al, Why WOULDN'T you want to put a name on a superior product? Why do they advertise "Certified Angus Beef" in restaurants..........because people are familiar with the name and quality of the beef and demand quality. How about a good ol' fashioned Marketing class for you......start with Marketing 101 and go from there.......any public university will offer one to you on-line. Why would you want keep advertising our beef generically? Why not let the consumers know what they are getting? If you raise quality beef, you'll get a quality price and they'll keep coming back for more.

Kenny    
North Dakota  |  March, 12, 2013 at 10:59 PM

Al, Why WOULDN'T you want to put a name on a superior product? Why do they advertise "Certified Angus Beef" in restaurants..........because people are familiar with the name and quality of the beef and demand quality. How about a good ol' fashioned Marketing class for you......start with Marketing 101 and go from there.......any public university will offer one to you on-line. Why would you want keep advertising our beef generically? Why not let the consumers know what they are getting? If you raise quality beef, you'll get a quality price and they'll keep coming back for more.

Dick    
CA  |  March, 13, 2013 at 06:30 AM

How can we have COOL without some verification system like NAIS? Without documentation and traceability country of origin is little more than an honor system. We all know how those honest injun promises usually work out. Put both systems in place or don't waste time and money on either. You are arguing over half measures.

John Maday    
Colorado  |  March, 13, 2013 at 11:13 AM

For those asking for consumer data, here is a link to a Kansas State University study from 2012, indicating COOL has had very little impact on consumer demand or perceptions: http://www.agmanager.info/livestock/policy/ Personally, I’ve always thought voluntary COOL should be adequate. If consumers want U.S.-born-and-raised beef, perceive it as higher quality and are willing to pay more for it, that should create an opportunity for producers and processors to create a production chain and branded product line that includes verification of U.S. origin.

Pamela    
CA  |  March, 13, 2013 at 03:12 PM

As a consumer who CARES where my beef or other protein is raised I choose to BUY HARRIS BEEF and FOSTER FARMS Poultry. I care and I know plenty of other CA who care as well. Thank you for farming and ranching so I can go to the store and choose.

Kenny    
North Dakota  |  March, 13, 2013 at 07:57 PM

John, Is it any wonder that K State came out with the survey when NCBA helped them obtain $1.15 BILLION (with a "B") federal dollars to move the research testing facilities from Plum Island to K State??? We all know how surveys can be skewed...... We've personally done local (unofficial) surveys and everyone has said they would prefer beef born and raised in the U.S. It really depends on how the question is phrased.

rich    
pa  |  March, 15, 2013 at 09:27 AM

Canada sued the US in WTO court over COOL. Funny thing is that Canada has COOL. If Canada uses COOL so should the US.


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