New “Country-of-Origin” Labels or “COOL” Things for Meat
New regulations come into effect this Saturday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding labeling meat. Specifically, the new federal labeling rules require meat processors to list the details of where livestock was born, raised and slaughtered. The new regulations update a certain law known as the “country-of-origin” labeling or also known as “COOL.” To review the new federal COOL rules and USDA’s fact sheet, go to: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/COOL and to http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/food-labeling/country-of-origin-labeling-for-meat-and-chicken/country-of-origin-labeling-for-meat-and-chicken Food products contained in the law include muscle cut and ground meats: beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts; and ginseng. The law was enacted by Congress in 2002. Much of its political support drew from concerns over the safety of imported meats and in particular, mad-cow disease. Many consumer advocacy groups that support transparency in labeling praise the new law as an important step in allowing consumers to make informed choices.
But not so fast. There is a significant chance that the law may be repealed. The American Meat Institute, the American Association of Meat Processors, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, the Canadian Pork Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Association and the Southwest Meat Association all filed a lawsuit against the USDA asking a federal court to strike down the law. The plaintiffs claim there are no health, safety or consumer-protection reasons to implement the COOL law. See http://www.courthousenews.com/2013/07/11/59265.htm
In addition to the lawsuit, according to the Wall Street Journal, “big U.S. meatpackers” are asking Congress to step in and stop COOL from going into effect. See http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303755504579206112678746726 If this happens, it will likely occur in the provisions of the new “Farm Bill” legislation that is currently under consideration before Congress. U.S. foreign trade partners are also working against the implementation of COOL. The Wall Street Journal reports that Canada is threatening to retaliate by imposing tariffs on U.S. imports. Foreign meat producers fear that U.S. consumers will be less likely to buy foreign born, raised and/or slaughtered meat. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the rules required limited details from meatpackers about the origins of their meat. For example, processors could use the catch-all description “Product of Mexico, Canada and the USA” for meat that came from animals slaughtered in the U.S. but which may have been born in any of those three countries.
It still amazes me that something so fundamental as transparency in labeling is so hard to achieve in this country because of the economic interests who don’t want consumers to understand what they are buying. Hopefully, the opponents of this significant advance in transparent labeling will lose in the courts and in Congress.