There is no evidence that mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) will benefit livestock producers, meat packers, retailers or consumers, remarks American Meat Institute (AMI) Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark Dopp.
Dopp countered arguments offered by the law’s backers at a listening session sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
"The labeling law will require different labels on meat, which may be derived from animals born in Mexico, Canada and the U.S. – even though animals from each of the three countries may be slaughtered within minutes of each other, at the same plant in Nebraska, under the supervision of the same USDA inspector, and in compliance with the same regulatory criteria."
The COOL consumer right-to-know argument doesn’t track either, says Dopp. "If this is the case, why do consumers only have the right to know the origin of meat and not poultry, or, peanuts but not walnuts or almonds? And why does the consumer only have the right to know the origin of some foods purchased in retail stores, but not foods consumed in restaurants?" he queries.
A poll conducted last year by the International Food Information Council asked consumers if there is information they would like to see added to food products. Three quarters of consumers said no, and those who did say yes did not request country-of-origin labels.
Claims that U.S. labeled meat products will sell for a premium that will boost the value of U.S. livestock are inaccurate, he says.
"The marketplace is very opportunistic, yet no one is voluntarily marketing U.S. labeled meat because consumers are not willing to pay a premium for such a product, like they are for Certified Angus Beef or Omaha Steaks," points out the AMI official.
Even if retailers were able to charge a small premium for "All American" products, it will not outweigh the substantial costs of this proposed labeling program, comments Dopp.
COOL could also produce major disruptions between the U.S. and its North American trading partners. The U.S. exports more than $1.2 billion in beef and pork to Canada and Mexico. Canada has a highly successful feeder pig industry that ships hogs to Midwest producers. Western Canada has extensive feedlots and packing plants supplying fresh beef to the U.S. West Coast. This trade will cease under a mandatory COOL law.
"The thinly veiled, non-tariff trade barrier imposes a duty on retailers and packers to provide accurate country-of-origin information and allows civil penalties to be assessed for noncompliance," Dopp says.
But only those who produce and supply livestock can provide that information – not the packer or the retailer, he adds.