In written testimony submitted for yesterday’s hearing on meat labeling requirements held by the U.S. House Agriculture subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, R-CALF USA urged subcommittee members to take no action that would in any way undermine the U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) law.
In its testimony, R-CALF USA advanced four specific arguments to encourage the subcommittee to make no changes to the U.S. COOL law despite past or future rulings by the World Trade Organization (WTO) that attempt to relax COOL requirements.
First, the group argued that disclosure of country of origin information matters in a free and competitive society. R-CALF USA cited the official rules of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture that require witnesses to disclose the country of origin of any payment or contract received by a witness that appears before the Committee.
“Just as the non-disclosure of the county of origin of payments and contracts would impair the ability of the House Committee on Agriculture to discover the truth in hearing matters, so too would the non-disclosure of meat derived from imported animals impair the ability of the marketplace to convey truthful information to consumers,” the testimony states.
Second, the group argued that any weakening of COOL would severely reduce marketplace competition that has already been severely eroded by unprecedented marketplace consolidation. According to the testimony, without COOL the meatpackers, rather than consumers, would be empowered to unilaterally decide from which country to source the livestock and meat necessary to satisfy consumer demand, “regardless of the consumers’ potential concerns regarding differences in the food safety regimes of various foreign countries.”
R-CALF USA also argued that COOL was producing the results that it had predicted. The group cited a study by Oklahoma State University that found that consumers valued cattle born or born and raised in Canada between $0.89 and $1.05 less, respectively, than beef that was born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. It also cited a U.S. Department of Agriculture study that found that consumers are willing to pay more for beef produced entirely within the United States.
“These studies confirm that competitive forces properly generated by consumer choices are impacting the value of beef produced from imported livestock, not the COOL law or regulations that merely empower consumers to make such choices,” wrote R-CALF USA.
Third, R-CALF USA argued that because the WTO was an advocacy group that was actively promoting its own “Made in the World” labeling regime, and because the WTO assigned a Mexican national to preside over the COOL case in which Mexico was a party, the WTO was conflicted and should not be relied upon to make an unbiased ruling regarding COOL.
“Congress should not even consider ceding any U.S. sovereignty to the WTO with respect to the constitutionally-passed COOL law when the WTO is known to be actively advocating for an origin labeling regime that is inconsistent with the U.S. COOL law and regulations,” states the testimony.
Finally, R-CALF USA argued that Congress must continue upholding COOL to ensure that imported meat is no longer allowed to deceptively assume the positive reputations of U.S. farmers and ranchers through non-disclosure of the meat’s origins.
“With COOL, consumers know under which country’s production regime the animal from which the meat they purchase for their families was derived was born, raised and slaughtered. No longer can meat from animals born and/or raised in a foreign country be passed off to unsuspecting U.S. consumers as meat deserving of the U.S. farmers’ and ranchers’ reputation,” the testimony concludes.