Jolley: Five Minutes with COOL. What’s your opinion?

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Almost every trade association in North America that is even remotely related to meat was watching one lonely courthouse on Tuesday.  A decision about a requested injunction delaying the implementation of COOL, one of the most critical laws that could drastically change how meat is labeled and marketed in the U.S., was about to be handed down by brand new U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. 

The tension mounted.  Anxious eyes watched the bench, searching for a clue. Judge Jackson peered down at the assembled legal firepower. And then she spoke. “I’ll think about it,” she said.  She promised to render her decision in about 14 days.

Beef Led by the American Meat Institute, the plaintiffs include the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, North American Meat Association, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canadian Pork Council, National Pork Producers Council, American Association of Meat Processors, Southwest Meat Association and Mexico’s National Confederation of Livestock Organizations.  Those ten groups represented the beef and pork industries all across North America - The U.S., Canada and Mexico. Poultry, though, was oddly missing.

They are accusing the USDA of illegal and unconstitutional actions that would create “lifetime itinerary labeling.” Led by Mark Dopp, the AMI’s “lawyer-in-chief,” the group claimed COOL “violates their First Amendment rights, exceeds the agency’s authority and breaks the Administrative Procedures Act by being arbitrary and capricious.”

Food Safety News reported that “Plaintiffs object to regulations forcing them to produce labels telling where meat is ‘born, raised and harvested (slaughtered).’ They’ve called it a ‘bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy’ that amounts to ‘compelled speech.’ The rules apply to muscle cuts of beef, pork, lamb and goat meat and prohibit so-called ‘commingling.’”

But there is another side to this story.  Another not-quite-so-influential group, let’s call them Friends of the USDA, asked to intervene in the case a few days ago.  Led by R-CALF, an ornery cattle organization that’s battled the AMI on most issues, was a mostly Western war party that included the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, Food and Water Watch (a notorious activist group), and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Here’s the crux of the matter.  Injunctions are usually awarded when the court thinks something is likely to be overturned.  Judge Jackson’s decision not to make an immediate decision means she’s not so sure, at least for now, that the AMI group has a winnable case.  So a number of people in the meat business will be resting on pins and needles until sometime near mid-September. Xanax, anyone? 

Trusting the old adage that opinions are like oral cavities, everyone has one; I patrolled the internet and placed a few phone calls to find out what people with a hound in this hunt were saying.

Silvia Christen, Executive Director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association: “Our interest is in preserving COOL for generations to come. The COOL regulation that requires the meat labels to list each country where the livestock was born, raised and harvested benefits U.S. cattle and sheep producers who can differentiate and promote American-born and -raised livestock in an increasingly international supermarket meat case.”

Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF: ”U.S. consumers will buy American if they can identify it in the market. Only with COOL can competition occur in our industries.”

He claimed the AMI-led part of the meat industry wants the “right to deceive consumers” with vague and misleading labels.

Ed Fast, International Trade Minister (Canada) and Gerry Ritz, Agriculture Minister (Canada) in a joint statement: “Canada considers that the United States has failed to bring its COOL measure into conformity with its WTO obligations. We believe that the recent amendments to the COOL measure will further hinder the ability of Canadian cattle and hog producers to freely compete in the U.S. market.

Canada wants the World Trade Organization to appoint a compliance panel for the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule. According to a report, they’ve threatened retaliatory tariffs on American products “ranging from meat, apples and cherries to jewelry, furniture and mattresses.” Mexico is saying they might eliminate low-tariff preferences for some U.S. goods. Potential cost to U.S. trade with those two nations could reach billions of dollars.

Jodie Anderson, Executive Director of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association: “The fear is that Mexico and Canada, the largest U.S. trade partners, could retaliate with market practices such as high tariffs unless the U.S. beef industry doesn’t comply. We don’t want to see any of those retaliatory barriers.”

Sahir Anand, Vice-President Global Corporate Marketing and Strategy, Trace One, wrote “Last month, eight meat industry groups sued the USDA over the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule. These groups argue that the rule’s costs will outweigh its benefits, but that is not necessarily true. The COOL rule will actually help manufacturers and retailers save face — and potentially millions of dollars — in the event of a food crisis.”

Danni Beer, USCA South Dakota Director and COOL Committee Chair: “If the compliance panel’s findings are not satisfactory to either side in the dispute, the decision can be appealed to the WTO Appellate Body. Canada’s request for a compliance panel is the first step in this process. If the U.S. is found to be in compliance, then Canada has no right to retaliation, which must be authorized by the WTO. If the U.S. is found not to be in compliance, then Canada can pursue retaliation, but a specific amount of retaliation must be requested and is subject to arbitration.”

Gerry Ritz-Canada Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, in an independent statement: “The WTO ruled that the Americans were not in compliance, that their Country of Origin Labeling rules and regulations, as they had set them up, contravened free and unfettered trade so we took them to the WTO, we won that ruling. They appealed, we won that appeal.

“The Americans . . . brought forward some new initiatives which we actually and their own industry feels make this even worse, more indefensible than it was before but they have continued to press ahead with that.

“As I explained to my counterpart Tom Vilsack, he has a political fix to a problem that doesn't exist.”

Mark Dopp, General Counsel for the American Meat Institute: “If I am going to continue to segregate my Canadian-born or Mexican-born from American-born, I need new pen space, expanded coolers, reconfigured lines. It adds up, between the capital expenditures, losses in productivity and labeling changes.

“The rules are unfairly arbitrary. As an example, a pig born in Canada and slaughtered in the United States would have to be labeled as such if it was sold as unprocessed ham, but would be labeled ‘Product of USA’ if it were to be turned into bacon at a U.S. processing company.”

Jess Peterson, Executive Vice President, U. S. Cattlemen’s Association: “All this segregation already goes on. It’s simply going back through and updating your labels — adding a comma and maybe a word or two.

“We’re not eliminating anything. They’re not forced not to process these cattle. They have to just make a slight modification in how they’re doing their segregation and they just go on and process them. The only barriers are the ones that they’re creating.”

His organization raised $25,000 for its legal fund at an event in North Dakota last week and is holding other events in Montana and South Dakota.

Stay tuned for the outcome of the extended round one in this decade old controversy.  No matter what Judge Jackson says in a few weeks, COOL will be battled out in North America and probably the World Trade Organization, too, for a very long time.  Exactly where do you stand?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Vaughn Meyer    
August, 31, 2013 at 07:48 AM

RCALF an ornery cattle organization?? A Western war party?? Be objective or you will lose you readers including this one! AND by the way; do you really believe the corporate and international interests will need your publication once they have completed their vertical integrated strangle hold on family agriculture??

Kansas  |  August, 31, 2013 at 10:06 AM

Vaughn, yeah, they are an ornery lot and that's not necessarily bad and the group standing with R-CALF was a Western war party. What I do is commentary and that isn't necessarily objective, either. Unlike some news services, I've never claimed to be fair and balanced in my commentary.

Tom Schaafsma    
oregon  |  August, 31, 2013 at 08:23 AM

I get real tired of hearing the likes of the AMI and NCBA with their hypocritical wining about not being able to implement COOL. Their are trying to incorporate a multinational monopoly of our U.S. cattle industry, not represent the interests of U.S. producers or consumers.

August, 31, 2013 at 10:50 AM

The bickering among all of the trade organizations and corporate and international interests goes far over the heads of those Americans who have already decided that they want to know the farmer or rancher who raises their beef, not just the country of origin. For those of us who raise all-natural grassfed beef from conception to consumer for local families, friends and neighbors, this kind of food and label jockeying is added security that our niche remains secure. Now, if grassfed meat producers could just get an honest USDA processor to start up a traveling abbatoir that could process our products on the farm and/or close to home, we might have some real economic opportunities that would turn around failing rural economies.

Northeast  |  August, 31, 2013 at 02:11 PM

If you look at who is objecting to COOL it’s the meat processors not the producers. All manufactured items are labeled as to where they are made or produced. Why not with food products? There needs to be a noted distinction of where the meet is produced as well as all farm products. In many of these countries pesticides, pharmaceuticals and various other products that have been banned in the US are still being used. If a product is labeled as to where it is produced it gives the consumer a choice as to which they would prefer to buy. Hopefully it’s the meet produced in the US at a slight premium over imports. If the meat processors prevail in their efforts, it will suppress the price that the US producers receive for their product.

Nebraska  |  August, 31, 2013 at 11:07 PM

Chuck, do you remember when Cattle Fax was saying exports returned $261 per head on fed cattle? Have you read that USMEF says that for every $1 spent on exports there is a return of $8? I have spent 11 years as a director on the beef checkoff, and I have seen many video’s of consumers lining up to buy U.S. beef. The 2012 CBB annual report has a chart showing consumers have increased their willingness to buy U.S. beef, from 22.9% to 64%. Exports are not generically labeled as BEEF but instead they are labeled as U.S. BEEF. Just think if we could duplicate the increased finical returns in the domestic market as we have in the foreign markets. AMI, NCBA, and the other U.S. plaintiffs want U.S. meats labeled for consumers in other countries but not at home. If U.S. cow-calf producers don’t become profitable to the point of reclaiming acres back from the environmentalist and farmers, the U.S. cow herd will not grow. But the U.S. beef industry will keep survive on imported beef as long as COOL is never implemented.

Missouri  |  September, 01, 2013 at 05:01 AM

Every time I read something from drovers I have no question where the money backing them comes from. Please explain to me how it is a bad idea to give our friends, family, and neighbors a choice when it comes to buying meat. If you were standing in the store witch one would YOU buy?

September, 01, 2013 at 02:31 PM

The only beef rib, fillet, chuck, round or strip on the shelf are produced in the U.S.A. Ground beef that the American public wants lean must have a percentage of imported beef. The consumer will buy the least cost.

September, 01, 2013 at 02:35 PM

Please give me the cost/ benefit ratio of COOL. Were the people in the video lined up to purchase U.S. beef or to buy beef as the meat they desired.

September, 01, 2013 at 02:42 PM

Can R-CALF market overseas? Can an individual rancher market overseas? Both could but would it be practical? Multinational companies have the marketing structure in place to do so. Should we stop all of our exports while these splinter groups attempt theirs.

Jerry J    
Montana  |  September, 01, 2013 at 05:44 PM

Never wanted COOL, never will. Originally people wanted it because they thought they would get extra money for American beef. The last 3 or 4 years we haven't had COOL and we in the country have seen record prices for our Beef. Now the proponents say that consumers will pay the extra money for American beef but you and I know that this isn't the case. The American public pays for things with there pocketbook. I really think the main reason we have organizations like R_CALF and other splinter groups asking for COOL is that they can use it for a membership drive. Let's face it a lot of the producers really don't know what is going on in the real world. They may be and probably are some of the best producers but the real world of beef marketing is way out of there league.

Ar  |  September, 01, 2013 at 06:31 PM

The reason beef is at alltime highs is because of the worst drought since the dust bowl. You havent experienced that in montana! You have benefited from our losses. You like buying those cheaper canadian cattle and sell them as us beef. Being from montana im assuming this is true. Just remember record beef has nothing to do with what you have done. Go three years without rain and see how profitable you are! Get out of your regional bubble sir!

Kansas  |  September, 01, 2013 at 09:31 PM

JJ, After reading your comments I find it hard to believe that you don't know yourself many of the answers. Do you know what the world income level is? 80% of the world makes less than $1,200.00 p year. The USA has about $30,600.00 p year, so my bet is on marketing here in the USA. Many foreigners cannot afford the beef produced here. To those that can I am sure they would like to buy USA Beef. There are many reputable independent studies (not flawed like the only one many talk about at KSU) but go search. The High Plains Journal did one in 2002 called the Beef Study. A 40% response on what is going on and it is still relevant even today.. Read it then post what it said. It is pretty simple and we can make more producers, feeders and packers if we market here in the USA and get away from the mentality that we need to import all we eat or consume. R-CALF USA is a far better choice for survival than being a packer puppet!

Nebraska  |  September, 02, 2013 at 12:25 AM

JJ, to say that retail cuts are only U.S.A. is incorrect. Did you know that USDA considers every animal slaughtered in a U.S. packing plant as U.S. product? That means imported cattle magically become domestic production, who knows what the imported cattle were feed or implanted with. 50% of American consumption of beef is ground beef and the U.S. meat packer’s imports trimming to help meet this demand rather than grinding less demanded cuts. Do you know that e-coli is a problem for ground beef? The more those trimming are handled the greater a chance of an e-coli incident. To say that consumers will buy the least cost is a red herring; maybe you could explain why consumers buy 12 oz bottles of water or why anyone would buy fast food when they can prepare their meals cheaper themselves. Consumers buy what they WANT. According the most recent Beef Demand Drivers as presented to the CBB, food safety was first and product quality was second as the greatest concerns of consumers. Don’t U.S. producers produce the safest highest quality beef in the entire world? Why would you not want the U.S. consumer to know that? As for the videos of consumers lined up to buy U.S. beef, the videos where in local markets where the local beef was for sale as well. Again USMEF promotes U.S. beef not generic BEEF. No one is suggesting that we stop exporting, but the answer to the declining cowherd is in your own statement, “Multinational companies”. If all of us don’t pull together and change the policies of the last 38 years the U.S. cattle herd will disappear, but the U.S. beef industry will continue to supply consumers with beef.

September, 02, 2013 at 12:47 AM

Mike, The USA may feed more antibiotics and use more implants than any country in the world, Bovine is bovine all around the world. Why would ours be better? Blame the packer? when he has excess chain capacity why would he want fewer ranchers?

September, 02, 2013 at 12:54 AM

Dave, Why would a multinational company wish to put a producer out of business? The more meat produced the more they would have in profit. They are behind beef expansion and hope it comes back soon.

September, 02, 2013 at 01:04 AM

Dave, Many people in the U.S. buy water because their community has high levels of heavy metals, salts, nitrates etc. I have lived in rural communities all of my life and have yet to find one that is one hundred per cent in compliance if tested to be free of any contaminates.

September, 02, 2013 at 01:18 AM

If we raised the best cattle in the world, why did we panic when we could no longer use Zilmax in our programs.

Kansas  |  September, 02, 2013 at 07:48 AM

Why would a packer want less producers in the USA? Profit from imports into the highest retail market (here in the USA). I am sure you have seen the effects of imports into the USA have you not? R-CALF USA has very good charts that started in 1998 with the imports considered and promoted as USA production. Many in this industry do not understand what has gone on being "global and we are going to feed the world". As for Zilmax, you didn't see us disagree with the ban on it. Would you injest or inject these additives personally? I don't think those who used it would! My point is to everyone that if we don't at least sit down and talk about these issues they are never going to be resolved. So many are so blind that they cannot see the truth due to the major packer media promoting their policy. I don't have time to go on and on with all the issues but I appreciate you at least reading. Did you find the 2002 Beef Study yet? Check it out and let us know what you found out about the industry and the value of USA BEEF. I was the one involved in making a simple change from "EAT BEEF" to "DEMAND USA BEEF". There is a difference just like associations, some want less producers and others want more. I'm a part of the support for more producers, feeders and packers. Go to the R-CALF USA website and check out the information. You may be surprised that these are real ranchers who care about the USA!

Nebraska  |  September, 02, 2013 at 10:08 AM

JJ, I did not say that multinational companies want to put producers out of business. My point is clear, multinational companies don’t need U.S. cows or U.S. cattle to produce U.S. beef. The U.S. producer is not necessary for the U.S. beef industry to make profits. You seem to be struggling with the difference between cows/calves/cattle and beef. The Act and Order clearly says, cattle producers will pay the checkoff, beef producer will not pay. Again with out COOL, U.S. cattle producers are NOT necessary. My use of a 12oz bottle of water was to demonstrate consumers buy what they WANT not what is cheaper, after all you can purchase water by the gallon or 5 gallons or buy consumptive use, all are pennies compared to buying a 12oz bottle of water. Again your statement on water has made the point that consumers are concerned about number one safety and number two quality. How is it that bovine is bovine but water is not water? People who have visited Mexico know the difference. I have yet to meet a U.S. cow–calf producer that is upset with feeders not being allowed to use Zilmax. Again safety and quality that is what consumers want. Do you believe that the U.S. produces the safest and highest quality beef in the world? Remember Oprah Winfrey had concerns about where her hamburger comes from and her number one issue was SAFETY that is why she wanted to know where her beef comes from.

September, 02, 2013 at 02:05 PM

Dave, in response to 10:00 am statement. Your discussion of the issue was well presented. I as well as what I believe to be the majority of producers do not agree with your solutions to problems within our industry. Although in disagreement, I believe your statements could be the foundation for positive industry discussion We need more producers willing to put aside divisive issues but willing to discuss positive solutions.

Randy Monroe    
missouri  |  September, 02, 2013 at 08:10 PM

The last time I looked at a label it stated; A product of USA, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Boy, it was real clear where this meat came from!

Louisiana  |  September, 03, 2013 at 09:18 AM

Country of origin labeling is common sense for U. S. cattle producers and all meat consumers. The meat packers are opposed as it would force changes on how they conduct business. Other countries that rely on the U. S. for meat/live cattle imports are opposed as it would likely have a negative impact on their markets. The NCBA has time and time again sided with the meat packers vs. the producers. Simply look at the list of plaintiffs in the suit vs. COOL and say no more. U. S. producers owe no one an apology for wanting their home raised products labeled as such. Anyone that has a superior product should want it labeled and should not want it blended unless it is labeled accordingly.

Kansas  |  September, 03, 2013 at 09:19 AM

J.H. your comment is misguided and unfair, especially in this instance. If you read to the bottom of my columns, you'll see a statement that says my opinions are my own. Drovers has never told me what to write. This column, too, was a compilation of what many people think about COOL - both pro and con. If you want an explanation of why COOL is a bad idea, contact one of the people quoted who are apeaking against it and ask them for their thoughts.

Kansas  |  September, 03, 2013 at 09:19 AM

J.H. your comment is misguided and unfair, especially in this instance. If you read to the bottom of my columns, you'll see a statement that says my opinions are my own. Drovers has never told me what to write. This column, too, was a compilation of what many people think about COOL - both pro and con. If you want an explanation of why COOL is a bad idea, contact one of the people quoted who are apeaking against it and ask them for their thoughts.

MT  |  September, 03, 2013 at 09:50 AM

COOL is a non-issue. It has never put $ back into anyone's pockets except for those of the legal profession and executive vp's.

September, 03, 2013 at 03:22 PM

09/03/2013--In our market, COOL really is a non-issue, Steve. Today, another new customer, a young woman, just called us from about eighty-five miles away, wanting to buy a share of all-natural grassfed beef. Said she hasn't bought beef in the grocery store "for years." She said that she's anemic. She has, and I quote: "a huge craving for a nice juicy cheeseburger." She added, " I won't buy beef that has been fed and shot up with all the junk and crap they can think of to make them weigh more. Ugh!" She mentioned antibiotics, hormones, and steroids. I have a hunch she would most likely also lump beta-agonists, ionophores and other feed additives into that list. We get a call from a new potential customer almost every day. Before we started direct-marketing our beef, we had no idea how many people out there in the non-farm consumer economy feel this way. This young woman doesn't care at all what the beef industry does about COOL. She just wants in her words, "some good, honest, old-fashioned, beef from a cow that eats grass, the way God meant it to." Many of our customers also want assurance that we don't spray our pastures with any pesticides or herbicides, and we can give them that assurance. They really like the fact that we use management-intensive grazing, and that our cattle provide the necessary fertilizer for our land. The beef industry is going to need to humble itself a little to get people like this young woman to buy beef again in the U.S. mass market. Exports should come from surpluses after we have satisfied the needs of people here at home. Our farm can sell every steer we can finish on grass, plus a lot of high-quality hamburger from healthy cull cows that don't meet our standards as breeders.

Kansas  |  September, 04, 2013 at 03:47 PM

Before you rely on a 2002 study to determine today's consumer trends, ask yourself what the average price per pound of beef was in 2002? Are U.S consumers really going to pay $4.99 or more for a pound for hamburger just because it's made in the USA? There is a reason why the popularity of pork is on the rise and it has nothing to do with where the beef was born, raised or processed. It's about price! With 50% of our cattle on farms less than 49 head with little or no access to working facilities, how are we going to manage the logistics COOL without losing more cattle producers because of the requirements? What then, $8.99 hamburger?

SD  |  September, 04, 2013 at 04:45 PM

COOL was formed as a non- solution to a non-existing 'problem'. A bogus 'problem' to gain members and dues for R-CALF and friends. How tough is it to find branded beef which is source verified, anyway? Direct to ranch, for that matter, something which is NOT provided with COOL because the promoters did NOT want their own ranches identified, as one might recall from promotions at the time. There are many brands of beef in many stores today, and also in local meat markets. COOL promoters simply wanted government to bear the costs of labeling their beef as 'USA produced' rather than joining one of the groups already doing that, or marketing it themselves. BTW, how many tons of cattle from Canado or Mexico have been raised as grass steers in the USA over the years, processed in the USA, etc.? How many bulls have been sold to Mexican or Canadian ranchers?? Pretty hard to tell where the 'nationality' of quite a few herds begins and ends, isn't it? Comparing western Canadian cattle movement with beef moving into eastern Canada, both involving the USA, and do the same with Mexico and you might learn something about who benefits from international meat trade. Compare the number of consumers in the USA with those of the world. I think we just might benefit from world trade as incomes increase in other nations, since they have about 94% of the population and are growing in prosperity and they love US food.

Kansas  |  September, 11, 2013 at 09:31 AM

9/11/2013 update: This morning, the court ruled that COOL will be implemented on schedule. If the groups who filed for an injunction want to pursue their case, they will have to go to trial.

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