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IFB's Hill: There's a better way to label meat

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Go to a meat counter today and you’ll see that many cuts are labeled with information on where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. An international decision last week has determined that’s not fair to imported meat.

“Well, certainly we don’t want to disrupt the food supply chain. We don’t want to add a burden of cost to the consumer,” says Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill, who adds there is a quantifiable cost associated with USDA’s country of origin labeling rule, also called COOL. “The COOL legislation has been assessed to cost about $500 million dollars per year to consumers. The Canadian government believe that the cost to their country has been over a billion dollars a year.”

Mandatory COOL has been on the books in one form or another since the 2008 farm bill, but as a member of the World Trade Organization, the United States cannot treat domestic products like meat any differently from imported products; on October 20th of this year a WTO compliance panel decided COOL does just that.

Supporters of COOL maintain consumers have a right to know information that COOL provides. Opponents argue that keeping meat from different countries, and from different stages of life, segregated throughout the production chain, creates additional costs throughout the livestock industry.

Hill says consumers do have the right to know where meat comes from, but that a better label might simply indicate the country where the last step of production took place, given that a large part of consumer interest in the source of food products has to do with concerns on food safety.

“Most of the food safety issues are surrounded by issues with processing,” says Hill, “not with where the animal was born or where the animal was raised; it’s with processing. So when a processing plant domesticated in the U.S. delivers a product – if that’s a product of the U.S. – I think that’s appropriate.”

If COOL does not change, Hill says another workaround may be to simply compensate affected trading partners, though he would prefer Congress fix the issue before trade retaliation comes to pass.

To hear more on the effects of COOL on the livestock industry from producer to consumer, click the audio player above.