Meat labeling law leaves consumers in the dark - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Meat labeling law leaves consumers in the dark

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On December 18, 2015, Congress repealed a law that will now make it harder for you, the consumer to figure out where the meat that you serve on your dinner table comes from. It will also put small American farmers at a big disadvantage as they try to compete with larger meat companies internationally.

The Country of Origin Labeling Law (COOL) was passed by Congress in a 2002 farm bill, although most labels were not actually seen on packaging until 2009 due to delays pushed by the meat industry. Those helpful labels stated exactly where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered, but due to the recent repeal of COOL, effective immediately, those labels will be no more on pork and beef products.

This repeal raises many questions: Why was the law repealed in the first place? Should I care where my meat comes from? How have politicians responded?

Why was the law repealed in the first place?
Starting with the WHY - the answer points to money (shocking, we know).  The World Trade Organization (WTO) did not like this law. Their job, as the WTO, is to deal with the rules of trade between nations, making sure trade flows as smoothly, predicatably and freely as possible. The County of Origin Labeling law, didn't exactly allow trade to run smoothly between the U.S. and neighboring nations. Mexico and Canada put up a big fuss, saying COOL only dicouraged Americans from purchasing their meat, raised and processed outside of the U.S.  They also claimed damages of more than $3 billion dollars but the WTO estimates that actual damages were about 1/3 of that.

Fealing the heat from our two neighboring nations, on December 7th, the WTO ruled authorized Canada and Mexico to impose up to $1 billion in tariffs on American goods if the rule  was not overturned. To prevent shoveling out this kind of cash, U.S. Lawmakers quickly added COOL to a $1.15 billion spending bill, voting to repeal it on December 18, 2015.

Should I even care where my meat comes from?
It's not only valuable for consumers to know where their meat comes from, it's also valuable to the small American farmer that makes a living promoting their local livestock born and raised in the United States.

There is also concern that the U.S. imports products from countries that have problems with mad cow disease and foot and mouth disease but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that "all imported and domestiv meat will continue to be subject to rigorous inspections by the USDA to ensure food safety."

What do supporters say?
Supporters of the law say consumers have the right to know where food comes from; whether for food safety reasons or just the option to support local farmers, they say consumers have the right to know. Many also pointed out that we are living in a time when consumers are demanding more information about the food they consume so to repeal the law is only taking a step backward. 

Many are also outraged that a law with so much support would be overturned. In 2013 a survey released by the Consumer Federation of America showed 90% of a representative sample of 1,000 adult Americans, supported the labeling.

U.S. ranchers in the Northern states that directly compete with Canada are extremely upset about the repeal. Roger Johnson of the National Farmers Union said, ""Packers will be able to once again deliberately deceive consumers."

What do opponents say? 
Opponents of the law say the regulation it too costly and will signal to our trade partners that the U.S. is not willing to abide by international trade decisions.

Canada and Mexico said labeling laws only serve to discourage Americans from purchasing meat that was raised or processed outside the U.S. 

How have our politicians responded?

The House of representatives voted to repeal the law by a 300-131 vote.

Some who support COOL and voted against the repeal:

  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who spoke for seven minutes about the issue to Congress did not support a repeal and said, “Americans will no longer know where their meat is born, raised, and slaughtered. This is bad public policy and bad for food safety. We should not let trade agreements change our rigorous standards. Informed choice is a bedrock principle of the free market."
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) referenced the survey by the Consumer Federation of America showing that 90% of Americans favored the requiring of labeling with the country of origin on meat and said, Congress repealing the law basically said,  “We don’t really care what the American people want. We’re just going to cave [to the pressures from the WTO ruling].”

Some who voted to repeal COOL:

  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) supported repealing the law saying in a statement, " Today I voted to repeal the existing portion of the country-of-origin labeling that targets beef, pork, and chicken producers. For economic opportunity to continually grow, we must let trade opportunities thrive."
    Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee said,  The longtime opponent of the labels helped add the repeal to a massive year-end spending bill.
  • Reps. Michale Conaway (R-TX),  Dan Benishek (R-MI), Jim Costa (D-CA), David Rouzer (R-NC), David Scott (D-GA) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) all asserted that COOL has no impact on food safety.
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