Community Agriculture Alliance: Country-Of-Origin Labeling facing Congressional attack | SteamboatToday.com

Community Agriculture Alliance: Country-Of-Origin Labeling facing Congressional attack

Bob Kjelland/For the Steamboat Today

Congress is back in session and getting back to work now that the election is over. The real work will begin again in January when the next Congress is sworn in.

Even so, the current Congress has had to deal with a budget bill. Unfortunately, the appropriations act for 2015 includes a provision that would hurt American consumers and Colorado's ranchers in the same sweep of the broom.

We all know Congress needs to get its House (and Senate) back in order and work together for the greater good of the county. One important responsibility for Congress was to give President Barack Obama an appropriations bill that details budget allocations.

Congress did that earlier this month, but Congress included an item that will be harmful to ranchers and to consumers. At issue is Country-Of-Origin Labeling, also known as COOL.

Consumers want informational labels on food so they can make informed decisions. Food already carries nutritional and ingredient labels. COOL is working and working well in letting consumers know where their pears, pasta and potatoes are coming from. American ranchers are proud of the quality and safety of the beef cattle they provide to meat packers and subsequently to consumers.

So who doesn't like COOL? The three big meat packers that, together, control and supply the vast majority of the meat sold in America. The packers don't want you to know whether the beef you buy was raised and processed in America or imported from somewhere else.

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Why is this important to them? Because less expensive (cheap) cuts of beef can be blended with U.S.-produced beef and sold to clueless consumers. The packers pocket the difference. This isn't right.

Earlier this month a coalition of more than 200 farm, faith, environmental, labor, rural and consumer organizations delivered letters to the Senate and the House urging the legislators to reject any effort to repeal, rescind or weaken COOL in any federal spending legislation.

Congress enacted COOL in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills and chose to expand COOL coverage to additional products such as venison in the 2014 farm bill.

COOL is being attacked by a coalition of special interests, including the meat industry, food processing companies, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers that have pressed the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Congress to rescind or suspend COOL.

It is worth noting that the World Trade Organization has challenged aspects of COOL since 2008. Some in Congress said they want to eliminate COOL in order to placate the WTO. In reality, the WTO appeals process still is in hearings. It makes no sense to surrender to the WTO when the trade organization has yet to win or lose the appeal process.

Also, the WTO has recognized the legitimacy of using labels to identify where food is grown or raised and processed; it simply wants to make sure the labeling law is used fairly.

It appears some in Congress really are taking action to favor the meat packers at the expense of livestock ranchers. It seems wrong for Congress to sacrifice a law designed to work for Americans just because someone outside our borders doesn't like it.

It seems equally wrong for Congress to sacrifice a law that the vast majority of consumers want in order to make the three dominant meat packers happy.