South Dakota politicians and ag leaders are ramping up their advocacy for mandatory country of origin labeling of beef products.
A bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution on Wednesday to urge President Donald Trump and his trade negotiators to enter agreements to allow full implementation of mandatory country of origin labeling, or COOL, for beef products. The resolution was introduced by U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and Jon Tester, D-Mont.
In a statement, Rounds said COOL fits into discussions on how to improve food security, transparency for consumers and supply chain issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said legislators should “help force the issue.”
“This is not only misleading to consumers when they purchase meat at the grocery store, it puts our producers at a competitive disadvantage when marketing their products,” Rounds said in a statement. “This legislation is the broadest and strongest bipartisan support we’ve seen for mandatory COOL since it was eliminated in 2015, and it begins the critical and necessary discussion on food security in America. This is a win-win for producers and consumers. … Our goal should be to gain support and include it in must-pass COVID-19 legislation, both of which will encourage the president’s action.”
U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Steve Daines, R-Mont., and John Thune, R-S.D. are also co-sponsors of the resolution.
“South Dakota cattle producers work hard to produce high-quality beef – the best in the world,” Thune said in a statement. “During these highly uncertain times, the least we can do for these ranchers and the consumers who depend on their products — now more than ever, I might add — is to provide them with the benefit and certainty of seeing ‘made in the USA’ labels on grocery store shelves in South Dakota and around the country.”
The efforts have the support of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and the South Dakota Farmers Union. The resolution is nearly identical to a state resolution that was passed in South Dakota earlier this year. It was sponsored by state Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, and passed both chambers of the South Dakota Legislature with nearly unanimous support.
“A resolution is where an issue begins to garner and gain widespread support,” said SDSGA Executive Director James Halverson. “We understand this is a critical step forward towards fully implementing Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling. This is more traction than we’ve seen on this all-important issue than in many, many years”
One notable cattle group unhappy with the resolution is the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America, or R-CALF USA. They want to see movement on a mandatory COOL bill. The group’s CEO, Bill Bullard, said the resolution filed will not provide U.S. cattle producers any relief from the rising tide of imported cattle and beef arriving from about 20 foreign countries.
U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., also wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue this week, urging him to help improve labeling requirements.
“Beef products processed and packaged outside of the United States would not be eligible for a new label,” Johnson said in the letter. “We encourage USDA to expedite that rulemaking and fix this loophole. Products repackaged in the US should not be awarded the same seal as the products our ranchers and feeders produce.”
COOL regulations are currently in effect for several products, including chicken; lamb; goat; farm-raised and wild caught fish and shellfish; and most nuts. But in 2015, Congress repealed the law requiring the labels for beef, as part of an omnibus budget bill because of a series of World Trade Organization rulings that prohibited labels on some products. That decision has been blamed for tumbling prices and forcing American producers to compete with foreign meat.