A COALITION of 229 farm, rural, faith, consumer and environmental organizations from 45 states delivered a letter urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to protect the integrity of country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat products.
The 2008 farm bill included mandatory COOL provisions for beef, pork, poultry, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and some nuts, but Canada and Mexico successfully challenged the implemented rules for meat products at the World Trade Organization as a barrier to international trade. USDA has issued proposed new rules that clarify COOL to comply with the WTO decision.
The proposed rules, issued in early March, strengthen origin labels by requiring that all meat from animals born, raised and processed in the U.S. bear a "Born, Raised and Slaughtered in the USA" label instead of "Product of the USA."
"The only acceptable way to respond to the WTO challenge is to make labels more informative for consumers, not water them down," the coalition wrote. "U.S. farmers and ranchers are proud of what they produce and should be allowed to promote their products. Consumers deserve clear, direct and informative labels. Providing more accurate labels with more information is a win-win situation for producers and consumers alike."
The National Farmers Union, a member of the coalition, submitted its comments individually to USDA last week, saying it supports the proposed rule's requirement that each specific production step be labeled with the country in which it takes place. This will provide more information than the current method of labeling multiple countries of origin without specifying which step occurs in which country.
The group said it also supports the elimination of commingling allowances for muscle cuts, which will reduce confusion for consumers.
On the other hand, after USDA announced the proposal, the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. claimed that the amended rule would further hinder trading relationships with Canada and Mexico.
"The requirement that all products sold at retail be labeled with information noting the birth, raising and slaughter will place additional recordkeeping burdens on processors and retailers, contrary to the Administration's assertion," association president Scott George said. "Moreover, this, combined with the elimination of the ability to commingle muscle cuts, will only further add to the costs of processing non-U.S. born, raised and slaughtered products. The end result will be hesitancy to process imported product and increased instances of less favorable treatment of foreign product, giving our trading partners a stronger case at the WTO."
The rule's comment period closes April 11.