NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Whispers about a renewed country-of-origin labelling law on meat imported to the United States are making the rounds in Washington, D.C., and two western states.
The mandatory law, know as COOL, was repealed at the end of 2015 when the World Trade Organization declared it unfair to Canada and Mexico. The United States faced massive retaliatory tariffs if the law was not repealed.
“It is back in terms of discussions with other groups in agriculture but also in terms of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) renegotiations,” said Colin Woodall, vice-president of government affairs for the U.S.-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
“COOL is a little ghost that seems to sit on my shoulder,” he said during a special session at the NCBA convention held Feb. 1-4 in Nashville.
Woodall said rules for an audited voluntary label are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They are a better fit for the beef industry, as opposed to a mandatory government requirement stating that labels must state where animals were born, raised and slaughtered.
“A mandatory, government-run program does not meet the needs of our industry. It does not allow us to provide the information to the consumer. That is why it failed,” he said.
Rumours circulated about the loss of COOL being responsible for an uptick in imports and a downturn in the cattle market. However, imports actually dropped in 2016 and the live price decline started at the end of 2014, said Woodall.
A member of the audience said American-grown beef should be labelled to distinguish it from imports.
“If you don’t believe in COOL, you are not a very good American,” he said.
South Dakota and Wyoming state legislatures have introduced bills calling for the labelling of all beef sold at retail.
South Dakota’s state senate Bill 135 said verified U.S. beef should be labelled. If the origin of the beef cannot be determined, the label would read country of origin unknown.
The Wyoming proposal HB 198 calls for every retailer and wholesaler to identify foreign beef with a label that clearly says “imported.” American beef would be labelled as product of the United States of America.