Johnson fights to keep meat labeling in new farm bill
The federal law requiring the country of origin to be stated on consumer labels for meat should not be repealed as part of a new farm bill, said Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.
Johnson fought for years to make country-of-origin labeling the law, and on Wednesday he said he is dismayed that the U.S. House version of a new farm bill would repeal it.
“Unfortunately, some members of the conference committee are trying to use a provision in the House bill to try to repeal country-of-origin labeling and take away consumers’ right to know where their food comes from,” Johnson said. “This is dangerous.”
Those seeking to undo COOL have noted it could get the U.S. in trouble with global partners interested in fair trade.
Johnson described COOL as “incredibly useful and popular” among American consumers.
“Consumers demand access to information about where their food comes from. They want to be able to know they are buying American-produced food. These labels have been very important marketing tools,” Johnson told reporters.
Johnson said Congress needs to pass a farm bill very soon, “but we need to get it right.”
He said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has set Thanksgiving as a target date to complete negotiations between the House and Senate. Johnson thought that might be a bit ambitious.
“It’s a good target, but my thinking is by the end of the year is a more realistic date,” Johnson said.
He repeated calls to keep livestock disaster assistance in the farm bill and to make it retroactive to when the former farm bill expired, especially in light of the Oct. 4 blizzard that killed thousands of cattle in West River.
“When times are tough, it’s the government’s responsibility to lend a helping hand,” Johnson said. “Ranchers get one paycheck during the year. This storm hit at the worst possible time, literally right before sale day for many of them.”
In addition, Johnson said he would oppose cutting food stamps much beyond the $4 billion over 10 years that the Senate has already passed. The House voted to cut $40 billion, but Johnson declined to state how deep he might be willing to cut to get a bill passed.
“Sen. Stabenow says she is willing to consider fraud and abuse as far as it goes, but $40 billion in cuts is unacceptable to her and to the Senate,” Johnson said. “That program is badly needed and a $40 billion cut is not.”
Johnson said his support for health care reform known as Obamacare has not flagged despite massive problems with the month-old website where Americans are supposed to be able to sign up for health insurance.
“Health care reform is more than just a website; it’s about finally providing millions of Americans the health care coverage they deserve, coverage that is meaningful,” Johnson said. “ ... The U.S. is the only country in the industrialized world without some form of national health insurance. These delays are disappointing, and the Department of Health and Human Services continues to work around the clock to make improvements to healthcare.gov.
“Already individuals can go to the site to review plan options without creating an account or filling out an application first. The website will be fixed. Consumers will be able to compare options and purchase coverage they want by the March 31 enrollment deadline. They can also enroll by visiting an in-person assister in their community or by calling the national call center or printing out an application and mailing it in.”