As a government regulation, mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the product information to which I as a consumer have a right. Now that there's a new administration in Washington — one that supports MCOOL, as well as increased consumer rights of all kinds — here's what I expect my elected leadership to provide for me, a voting, taxpaying purchaser of beef products:
Completely Mandatory (CM) COOL: The current MCOOL law only applies to beef products moving through retail; the half of the product that goes into the restaurant and foodservice industry shouldn't get a pass when it comes to labeling. Make MCOOL completely mandatory for every marketing segment, on every menu and every fast-food package a consumer receives.
CM Input (I) COOL: All U.S.-born, raised and processed cattle should eat only U.S.-grown feed. What goes into their bodies goes into ours. They should also be given only U.S.-produced health products.
CMI Dairy (D) COOL: As a savvy U.S. consumer, I know that dairy animals comprise about 20% of U.S. beef production. I have a right to know if the animal has been raised just to produce beef or to produce dairy products, too.
CMI D COOL Revised: CMI Breed (B) COOL: Heck, if we're going to be told if my beef originated from a dairy animal, we might as well know what breed (or breeds) the animal was. It matters to some of us, and, well, we deserve to know.
CMIB Ranch (R) COOL: We've all read reports of ranchers and farmers who have, for whatever reason, not done right by their animals or sold less than healthy stock. We as consumers have the right to know that the animals were raised properly and in a high-quality environment. So let us know what ranch or farm raised the animals that produced the beef. (Mandatory premises registration would be a good start, and will have to be expanded and strengthened, obviously.)
CMI BR COOL Revised: Animal Identification Labeling (AIL): All animals, even within breeds and from the same ranch, were not created equal and weren't treated equally. Let's just put a number on the package corresponding to the animal from which that beef was derived. Include its age and date of slaughter. Lots of products we buy have this kind of trace-back information; why not beef?
AIL Information and Nationalization Guarantee (AILING): I want all of that information, plus a guarantee that it's accurate and complete. As a consumer I have a right to products that give me maximum information with minimum effort on my part, whether or not I actually benefit from or utilize the information.
Passage and implementation of MCOOL is just a baby step onto this slippery slope. The program tells me nothing about the safety, wholesomeness or quality of the beef I purchase at the supermarket. But, according to the government, it's my right to have it.
If that's true, maybe I should campaign for the above rights, too. Sure, they're unreasonable and would cost the industry a fortune. But MCOOL is also a pain. At least these ideas tell me something about the product that's possibly useful. That's more than MCOOL ever will.
Walt Barnhart is a freelance writer and president of Carnivore Communications, Denver, CO. He recently authored a biography of beef-industry giant, Kenny Monfort entitled “Kenny's Shoes.” Learn more at: www.bbotw.com.