AMI President J. Patrick Boyle

A new effort announced by the Cattlemen’s Competitive Market Project (CCMP) aimed at voluntary country-of-origin labeling for beef got two things right: it’s voluntary and the costs of the program are paid for by those who champion it.

This stands in stark contrast to the expensive, mandatory program slated to go into effect in September 2006. That program’s first year implementation costs are estimated $3.9 billion, two-thirds of which will be borne by the red meat industry alone.

However, a close read of the materials released today by CCMP, a project of the Organization for Competitive Markets and the Ranchers-Cattlemen’s Action Legal Fund, should make clear that despite the fact that it is voluntary, the “Not just any beef. USA Raised Beef” campaign is an anti-trade initiative that reflects R-CALF’s ongoing beef with imports.

Under major free trade agreements, beef imported into the U.S. must be produced and inspected according to the same standards as beef produced in U.S. packing plants Only certain plants in other countries are certified as having this equivalence and only those plants may export to the U.S. To suggest that USDA is permitting “cheap” and “unsafe” beef into the U.S. is patently false and misleading to consumers.

Today’s press conference is being hosted by the same people who badly distorted the results of a 2003 Colorado State University/University of Nebraska Study by suggesting that the study offered convincing evidence that consumers wanted country of origin labeling and would pay more for it. In fact, their misuse of the findings prompted the researchers to issue a clarifying statement that can be read on www.countryoforiginlableing.org.

In their statement, the researchers noted the country-of-origin labeling was the 8th ranked factor in consumer purchasing decisions. 'Clearly, issues of freshness and food safety inspection were far more important to the consumers we studied,' they wrote. The researchers also noted that their study, by its design limitations, likely overstated any expressed willingness to pay more for products that bear country-of-origin labels.

More recently, according to a January 2004 survey by the International Food Information Council, 75 percent of consumers could not think of any information ‘not currently included on food labels’ that they would like to see added. Of those who would like additional information, most identified nutrition information and ingredients as their top choices. Less than seven-tenths of a percent of consumers surveyed mentioned country-of-origin labeling. The survey was done January 3-11, 2004 by Cogent Research; 1002 people were surveyed.

Consumers and the media need to view this new initiative for what it is: an anti-imported beef initiative that will raise beef prices for American consumers when price, quality and freshness are among things Americans care most about.”

AMI