Mandatory country-of-origin labeling takes effect at the end of this month, and while the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service worked to keep COOL compliance relatively simple for livestock producers, stocker operators face particular challenges due to the nature of their business.

Cow-calf producers simply need to provide an affidavit, linked to records documenting origin, each time they sell a group of calves. For stocker operators purchasing those calves, the paper trail becomes a bit more complicated, as stockers frequently purchase small groups of calves, commingle them with others and further sort the larger groups for management and marketing.

In August, AMS released a guidance document to help livestock producers comply with COOL regulations. The document states that the law “provides for the use of producer affidavits to provide origin information to packers.” Packers can rely on producer affidavits to initiate an origin claim, as long as the affidavit is made by someone having first-hand knowledge of the origin of the animals and identifies the animals unique to the transaction.

The document goes on to say that a subsequent buyer such as a stocker or feeder, who commingles animals from several sources, “is authorized to rely on previous producer affidavits as a basis for formulating their own affidavit for the origin of the new lot.” Such affidavits must also identify the animals unique to the transaction.

So at the minimum, stocker operators will need to obtain an affidavit from the seller for each lot of purchased calves and keep those documents in their records. They can then produce their own single affidavit when they sell a lot of commingled cattle.

As for the affidavits, NCBA this month joined an industrywide coalition in announcing the development of a standardized affidavit to declare country of origin for livestock throughout the marketing chain. “Our goal was to create a simple, efficient, and effective means of declaring livestock origin from conception to consumer, and we believe this affidavit does exactly that,” says NCBA President Andy Groseta. “Producers can fill in information specific to their cattle and assert the origin of any animal being sold.  Livestock marketers further along the ownership chain can use individual affidavits to create a single, combined affidavit for a group of animals.”

Specialists at Iowa StateUniversity’s IowaBeefCenter have compiled a variety of COOL information and resources for beef producers at each production stage. They recommend stocker operators take the following steps:

  • Develop standard operating procedure for group or individual identification to assure separation by designation.
  • Maintain records of beginning and ending inventories.
  • Record the number and description of incoming cattle with documentation of country of origin.
  • Record the number of sales or removals.
  • Keep a record of deaths or missing cattle.
  • Record pen and pasture information.

ISU specialists suggest the additional step of using individual identification of cattle with visual or electronic tags and recommend against mixing cattle with different country designations within the same group. For the Iowa Beef Center COOL information, click here.