A cattlemen’s group in the U.S. has fully embraced the new reality of alternative facts.
In news release this winter, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) urged the U.S. government to reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling for beef and pork.
In the statement R-CALF committee chair for COOL, Mike Schultz, explained how America abandoned the previous version of the labeling law.
Most Canadian ranchers believe the U.S. Congress re-pealed COOL in 2015 after the World Trade Organization agreed with Canada and Mexico, saying it violated international trade laws.
Schultz and R-CALF have a different version of the truth.
“The only reason producers and consumers lost COOL for beef and pork was because the past administration and congress refused to defend America’s sovereign right to inform its consumers about the origins of their food,” the R-CALF release said. “The new administration and congress can correct this serious error very quickly if they choose to.”
R-CALF has launched a COOL-in-100 campaign, lobbying President Donald Trump to restore the labeling law in the first 100 days of his administration.
Many cattlemen in South Dakota support the national campaign, but just in case they’re also working on a back-up plan.
The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, an R-CALF member, has sponsored a bill requiring grocers in the state to label meat with a country of origin.
The law would put the onus on retailers, not beef packing plants, said Silvia Christen, SDSA executive director.
“If the grocery store is able to determine where that product is coming from, it would have to be labeled as to the country of origin.”
If a retailer doesn’t have the information the meat would receive a label of “country of origin unknown.”
Wyoming is also considering a country of origin labeling bill for meat products.
In South Dakota the bill is at the early stage of the legislative process, but Christen isn’t worried about a trade or legal challenge if it’s enacted.
“The trade dispute was about the process. About the way that packers had to, apparently, separate the livestock,” she said, noting the bill doesn’t require packers to change processes.
“We’re saying if that information is available, through the existing process, then that information has to be provided to the customer.”
The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, the other beef producer’s group in the state, doesn’t support R-CALF or the proposed legislation. It belongs to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which backs free trade and opposes COOL.
Christen acknowledged there is a debate over COOL, but she doesn’t accept the notion that it harmed Canadian producers.
The WTO ruled that Canada could implement $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs, annually against the U.S., because COOL was causing lost sales and cutting into prices for beef, pork, pigs and cattle.
“I find it hard to justify that argument,” she said.
“Country of Origin Labeling was in place until 2015 and I don’t think anybody could say the (beef) industry was financially harmed in 2013 and 2014.”
Christen believes that President Trump can reinstate COOL in a way that doesn’t contravene trade agreements.