Bipartisan senators say mandatory beef labeling is what American consumers want

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A law not costing the treasury trillions yet delivering something consumers want might be unusual in this day and age, but thats what a bipartisan foursome of U.S. senators have planned.

The four:  U.S. Sens. John Thune, R-SD; Jon Tester, D-MT; Mike Rounds, R-SD; and Cory Booker, D-NJ, are sponsoring the American Beef Labeling Act, legislation that would reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef.

The legislation, set to be formally introduced next week, would require the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in consultation with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, to develop a World Trade Organization-compliant means of reinstating MCOOL for beef within one year of enactment. The USTR would have six months to develop a reinstatement plan followed by a six-month window to implement it. If the USTR fails to reinstate MCOOL for beef within one year of enactment, it would automatically be reinstated for beef only.

“Transparency in labeling benefits both producers and consumers,” said Thune “Unfortunately, the current beef labeling system in this country allows imported beef that is neither born nor raised in the United States, but simply finished here, to be labeled as a product of the USA. This process is unfair to cattle producers and misleading for consumers. When you see a ‘product of the USA’ label on the grocery store shelf, it should mean just that.

“South Dakota cattle producers work tirelessly to produce some of the highest quality beef in the world. The pandemic has only highlighted their important role in our domestic food supply and the urgent need to strengthen it. To ensure the viability of cattle ranching in this country, the system in which producers operate must be fair and transparent. As a long-time supporter of MCOOL, I am proud to introduce this legislation, which will move us one step closer to making that a reality.”

“Montana ranchers raise the best cattle in the world, and it’s time American families are guaranteed the right to know whether their beef is from Broadus or Brazil,” said Tester. “This bipartisan legislation will make sure consumers know when they’re buying American beef at the supermarket, and it will defend Montana’s family farmers and ranchers by leveling the playing field.”

“It’s time to restore Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) once and for all,” said Rounds. “This is an important step in restoring market integrity for consumers and cattle producers. For too long, the packers have skewed this market in their favor. Now, we take it back. I’m thankful to my colleagues for helping carry this important issue for consumers and cattle producers. I’ve long said that consumers will need to drive and help carry this policy debate. For those of us who support MCOOL for beef, this is just the start. The nine major cattle-producing states won’t get this done alone. We need a national campaign to see this over the finish line.”

“Americans should know exactly where their beef is coming from, but current USDA labeling practices allow big meatpacking companies to falsely label imported beef as being a product of the USA,” said Booker. “I’m proud to join colleagues in this bipartisan legislation that will restore mandatory country of origin labeling for all-beef products and provide fairness for our family farmers and ranchers.”

Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF USA, says that in the seven years since MCOOL was repealed, U.S. cattle producers have experienced lower prices and were deprived of the means to increase demand for U.S.-produced cattle.

Justin Tupper, vice president of the U.S Cattlemen’s Association, says the “Made in the USA” label “should pertain only to beef that was born, raised, and harvested in the USA. This legislation provides a pathway for achieving clear, accurate labels so that consumers can continue choosing to put high-quality American beef on their plates.”

Congress repealed the Country of Origin Label (COOL) law in 2015 after the World Trade Organization said it would allow Canada and Mexico to impose retaliatory tariffs of almost $1 billion if it remained on the books. Those tariffs would be imposed against U.S. products outside the beef sector.

The American Beef Labeling Act would allow the Biden administration to act upon food labeling limitations while remaining WTO compliant. The USDA’s current “Product of the USA” labeling can be used on products minimally or repackaged in the United States. It’s been said that the current system would be fraud without government oversight.

New involvement by the Federal  Trade Commission has promoted a USDA review of the “Product of USA” structure.

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