Summer events offer perfect opportunity to bend an ear, twist an arm.

By the time you read this, you'll have fond memories of 4th of July picnics, parades, free candy tossed from passing floats, watermelon, lemonade, homemade ice cream and apple pie.

These summer celebrations often offer an opportunity to bend the ear or twist an arm of your senators and congressmen about some things that impact you and your livelihood:

  • Corn prices and ethanol production;

  • Country-of-origin-labeling;

  • Global warming and carbon credits;

  • The growing debate over how our cornucopia of food and fiber should be divvied up — for food, feed or fuel;

  • Immigration policies and their impact on your workers and those who process your hogs.

These and other challenges should be top of mind as a new farm bill is being drafted.

Normally, I'm not terribly motivated by politics — or politicians — but I see U.S. agriculture entering a totally new era, one that will have a long-lasting impact on the pork industry's competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Tradeoffs

Undoubtedly, hard choices will have to be made.

One tradeoff I think should be easy to make is to set aside the poorly conceived, very expensive, government entangled, mandatory country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) mandate set to go into effect in less than 14 months.

It's likely the COOL zealots will zero in on melamine-contaminated pet foods, toothpaste tainted with ingredients used to make antifreeze and seafood laced with banned antibiotics to lobby for funding.

The common denominator in this argument is China — a country that is learning many new lessons about international marketing and diplomacy.

But before anyone signs the “we-deserve-to-know-where-our-food-comes-from” pact, consider this on your next trip to Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Famous Footwear or other favorite shopping destinations. How often do you check the origin of a product? Do you check all products or just those in the news?

I recently read an Associated Press article published in The State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL), written by Dirk Lammers, who recounted a shopping excursion in the nation's heartland — Sioux Falls, SD. Lammers was in search of a new pair of sneakers for his son. The big box stores, shoe stores and department stores had several brand names — all made in China. A few New Balance shoes were marked “Made in the USA of imported materials.”

Truth be known, your choices of many (maybe most) food- and fiber-based products are a composite of ingredients — foods, fibers, flavorings and preservatives — originating from several different countries.

Even if COOL were enacted, would the average consumer choose a product made exclusively in the USA? How many of your favorite products would be left to choose?

Would you give up chocolate, for example? How about fresh fruits and vegetables in the dead of winter?

If the “only-in-the-USA” trend caught on, a marketplace that has moved manufacturing and packaging to all points of the globe would be hamstrung.

Let It Go

It's time to scrap COOL once and for all. The average price-conscious consumer is usually drawn to the best deal regardless of its origin anyway.

Instead, let's allocate those COOL program dollars where they will do some good — in the regulatory arms of the USDA and the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) responsible for the oversight of products entering the U.S. market.

No one's willing to compromise on food safety. Although we enjoy the safest food supply in the world, labeling it as originating in the USA doesn't automatically make it safer.

The 2002 Farm Bill mandated COOL for fish and seafood, beef, lamb, pork, fruits, vegetables and peanuts. Why isn't poultry on the list? Why is one commodity required to abide by the requirement while the next is absolved of the obligation?

There is a plethora of products and ingredients — originating here and abroad — that should be inspected more closely. The U.S. Food Safety & Inspection Service could use some staffing up. FDA regulators only test a very small fraction of the products entering the United States. Yet, the COOL commandos remain focused on a label that is likely to go unnoticed within months — if they are noticed at all.

The next congressional break — their “summer recess” — comes in August. Study the issues that affect your livelihood. Learn more about the issues likely to find their way into the next farm bill. Tell your elected representatives how their votes impact your daily lives and your ability to provide food and fiber to the world.