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Study finds mCOOL had minimal effect on meat demand

Analysis shows no evidence of positive demand development from labeling law.

A Kansas State University (KSU) agricultural economist says a law that once required mandatory reporting of the origin of meat sold in grocery stores likely did not have an impact on consumer demand for those products.

Glynn Tonsor has completed an analysis of meat demand before, during and after the U.S. Department of Agriculture had implemented mandatory country-of-origin labeling (mCOOL) for meat products.

The mCOOL law was in place in the U.S. from 2009 through 2015 and required food labels in grocery stores to include a statement indicating where the source animal was raised before it was harvested for a meat product.

Essentially, Tonsor said, “if beef and pork products went through the grocery store, then they had to be labeled. With that (labeling) comes the cost of compliance, which goes into a benefit/cost assessment and an attempt to quantify the benefit. So, what we tried to determine is the impact on the demand for meat of that law and, ultimately, whether there was a positive benefit:cost ratio.”

Tonsor said there is no evidence of positive demand development following implementation of the mCOOL law. “So, if you don’t have evidence of a benefit, and you do have evidence of a cost, that’s not a desirable benefit:cost ratio,” which led to the law being repealed in late 2015.

Four years later, there is “no reason to think” that repeal of mCOOL would provide a measurable boost to the demand for meat products, he added.

“One of the estimates we have reported looks that way, but there are a lot of things that change. Beef demand or pork demand could be better after mCOOL and have nothing to do with mCOOL being repealed,” Tonsor said.

Recent drivers of meat demand are more likely due to consumers’ increased preference for protein in their diets, and the population mix versus 10 years ago also has changed, Tonsor said.

He and his colleagues have published a paper outlining many factors that affected meat demand before, during and after mCOOL was in place. The fact sheet, titled, “Overview of MCOOL Impact on KSU Domestic Beef and Pork Demand Indices,” is available online at www.agmanager.info.

“There are a lot of resources that say the last two or three years have been very good on domestic meat demand, and I am not going to attribute that to the absence of mCOOL. There are other factors that are in play, such as consumer incomes rising, favorability of protein in the diet and more,” Tonsor said.

The fact sheet may be especially valuable, he said, because there is some renewed interest in bringing back mCOOL.

“I hope all policy decisions and industry leaders make their decisions based on information and research-based knowledge and less on emotion,” Tonsor said. “I hope this and other resources are part of the knowledge set that guides that process.”

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