Community Agriculture Alliance: Defending country-of-origin labeling

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If you are a parent, you surely have had versions of this conversation a hundred times:

“Can I have a cookie?”

“Not before you finish dinner.”

“But I want one now. Can I?”

“No, eat your peas.”

“But I want a cookie now.”

“No cookies!”

“Can I just have one?”

That’s how things seem to be operating in Congress these days. It does no good to pass legislation because special-interest groups just keep coming back and trying one more time to get their way. In the case of country-of-origin labeling for meats, the behavior especially is tiresome because nothing seems to get through to the opponents, who have blocked implementation of this popular legislation for 11 years.

The legislation was passed in 2002 despite the complaints of meat packers and the food-processing industry. Independent livestock growers cheered because it meant their products would be identifiable in the local market at a time when the food industry was dumping cheap, imported beef, and pricey U.S.-grown meat into one giant tub and labeling it all “ground sirloin.” Consumers cheered because it meant putting controls on the mash-it-together business plan that was giving us headlines like “800 million pounds of ground beef recalled for E. coli contamination.”

But livestock commodity groups and national grocery chains flexed their lawyers and kept the law dead in the water with a mixture of attempts to repeal, demands for reconsideration and legalistic objections to U.S. Department of Agriculture attempts to implement the legislation. Finally in 2008, after six years of nothing getting done, Congress passed another Farm Bill and included a clause that said, in effect, get the country-of-origin labeling rules implemented.

That was just a challenge for the lawyers of those who object to the rule. New rounds of obstruction ensued, and here we are after 11 years still fighting about what ought to be a dead issue. The last round of contention is the claim that the USDA’s concessions to the World Trade Organization (Mexico and Canada complained) are not adequate and, citing what might be called “future proof,” will wreck the livestock industry in the United States.

One leader of the campaign to kill country-of-origin labeling is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the efforts of which are funded by beef checkoff dollars collected by the USDA from all beef raisers. That has incensed independent cattlemen, represented by R-CALF, which has cited it as the latest of many abuses that should prevent the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association from getting checkoff dollars.

The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has not been above the fray. We consistently have supported country-of-origin labeling. Our national organization played a major role in passing the law, repassing the law in 2008, getting it implemented and adjusting the USDA rules to address the complaints of meat producers in Canada and Mexico.

If you eat meat, then these regulations affect you. If you want to know where the meat you eat comes from, it’s time, once again, to tell your congressional representatives.

Kent Peppler is the president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.

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