Would U.S. cattle producers get more money for their beef it the U.S. government required it to be labeled “Product of the USA”? That is the basic argument behind the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Debate.
Audio: Profit Matters
COOL is not mandatory today, but some companies do label their beef as USA born, raised and harvested. Those who favor mandatory labeling, say beef packers are taking advantage of the U.S. producer by buying lower quality beef from Canada and Mexico and mixing it into the U.S. supply.
Chief Executive Officer of the populist cattle group R-CALF USA, is Bill Bullard, was in Oklahoma this past week. During his visit, Bullard spoke to a couple of meetings in the state organized by the Oklahoma Independent Stockgrowers Association. One of the messages he had for cattle producers at his presentations is that American producers need Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) to return as part of the new US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. He shared his perspective on this issue with Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays in an interview recorded during his visit.
“We were elated when the Trump Administration first announced we were going to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement recognizing that the United States was being harmed by that agreement. We were very disappointed when the proposal came out that did absolutely nothing to change any of the provisions affecting the trade of cattle and beef,” Bullard said. “We were hoping the Trump Administration would part or take some of the provisions that they’ve used now for the textile industry and auto industry and recognize the importance of making things in America. We thought they would apply that to beef, but they didn’t.”
Bullard explained his reasoning for why COOL should be made mandatory as it once was in the past, though ultimately removed after the policy’s unintended repercussions were realized. Bullard remarked that the industry’s ability to differentiate its product from the cheaper product of Canadian and Mexican competitors in the marketplace is essential to maintaining competitive profit margins. He explained that without COOL, packers are able to source cheaper product from competing nations and distribute it as a “Product of the USA,” and in essence deflating the value of domestically produced beef.
“So, we’re opposing the agreement right now. In fact, we’re asking members of Congress to hold off their support contingent upon the restoration of (COOL) for beef and pork in the USMCA,” he said. “Our position is that agreement should not be approved unless we first restore (COOL) so cattle producers can compete against the growing tide of undifferentiated and cheaper product that’s coming into the US from Canada and Mexico and undercutting US cattle prices.”
The reality of the situation, however, is that (COOL) information is available to consumers right now. While not mandatory, consumers can easily locate where specific items found in their local grocery store were produced by simply looking on the package.
(Ron Hays, who interviewed Bullard, confirmed that fact with a quick visit to the meat counter at his own local grocery store. Hays found that WalMart does label both fed and grass fat beef as: “born, raised and harvested in the USA)