More than 10 years in the making, strict meat-labeling rules originally envisioned by U.S. Sens, Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., were finally fully realized late last month.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will increase the amount of information American consumers see on packages of meat in an effort to give them more information about their food and to gain compliance with the World Trade Organization.
It was the correct decision in the best interest of consumers despite inflamed rhetoric from Canada, Mexico and the WTO that the new regulations are unduly burdensome and discriminate against the nation’s two largest trading partners in the meat industry.
Additionally, the National Grocers Association warns the change will lead to increased costs for consumers, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says it doesn’t think the new rules will satisfy Canada and Mexico, fearing retaliation with taxes or other restrictions on U.S. beef.
New labels on packages of beef, pork, chicken and other muscle cut meats will inform consumers in which country animals were born, raised and slaughtered.
The current country of origin labels — watered down from Enzi’s and Johnson’s original intent because of meat packing and grocery industry pressure — approved in the 2008 farm bill only tell consumers whether the meat was produced in Canada, Mexico or the United States.
Current loopholes are so large, meat packers can get away with slapping a “Product of USA” label on a slice of beef processed in the U.S. but raised in Mexico, for example. Or blending Canadian and U.S. cuts and saying it’s made in America.
The new labels will include such information as “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.” Cuts of meat from other countries could carry labels such as “born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States.”
“(The) label will ensure that consumers will be able to find beef like ours, made in the USA, raised under rigorous health standards by American livestock producers,” said Wyoming rancher Wilma Tope on behalf of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, a pro-landowner and rancher advocacy group in Sheridan.
The underlying, but equally important, story to the new COOL regulations is the fact that they’re an example of what this country doesn’t have enough of these days: Bipartisan efforts to make laws and regulations for the betterment of U.S. society, from the economic well-being of Wyoming’s independent ranchers to Americans’ better-informed food choices.
Much of the 2008 farm bill language left the COOL law open to interpretation by the USDA. The USDA rules adopted shortly before the George W. Bush administration left office allowed meat companies to be vague about where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered.
In February 2009, then-new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Obama administration’s call for stricter labels that required an animal be born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. before earning that designation.
Vilsack asked the meat industry to voluntarily follow what became the current labeling guidelines. If they hadn’t, he threatened them with the implementation of a new rule-making process.
Now come even stricter regulations. The governmental process worked.
Late last month, the National Farmers Union issued a statement praising the Obama administration for “providing more information on the origins of our food, instead of simply watering down the process.”
“Consumers want and have the right to know where their food comes from,” it added.