“Only the government could take a costly, cumbersome rule like mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) and make it worse even as it claims to fix it,” says J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute (AMI).
Boyle was speaking of USDA’s proposed rule that would modify the mandatory COOL provisions for muscle cuts of stipulated commodities to require the origin designations to include information about where each of the production steps occurred (i.e., born, raised, slaughtered).
Presumably, the proposedrule is how USDA aims to comply with a ruling from the World Trade Organization (WTO), which found that U.S. COOL requirements for certain meat commodities discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock imports. Thus, they were inconsistent with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.
Keep in mind that Canada and Mexico – which filed the complaint with WTO – were the largest and third-largest export customers, respectively, for U.S. beef in 2012.
“The proposed rule is even more onerous, disruptive and expensive than the current regulation implemented in 2009. Complying with this proposal, should it become mandatory, will create more excessive costs that will be passed onto consumers,” Boyle explains.
Best as I can tell, outside of a handful of food elitists and activists, consumers don’t much care where beef originates or where various processing steps occur. They rightfully assume that if it’s in the meat case, it has undergone USDA inspection and is safe to consume. After that, they care about price, appearance and a repeatable, reliable eating experience.
Oh, and they’d like to know what they’re buying. But, according to research conducted by the beef checkoff program and the National Pork Board (NPB), package labels have been downright confusing for consumers.
Consider what has been standard label nomenclature for the hugely popular Flat Iron Steak: “Beef Shoulder, Top Blade, Flat Iron, Steak, Boneless.” If consumers read to the end, they might still wonder if it’s the same thing they had at a restaurant.
That’s the impetus behind the recently approved change to beef and pork common names for use on beef and pork package labels.
Technically speaking, the beef checkoff program and NPB recently received unanimous approval from the Industry-Wide Cooperative Meat Identification Standards Committee to introduce updated Uniform Retail Meat Identification Standards nomenclature for fresh beef and pork for retailers to use on labels.
This approval means rather than a single line on the label proclaiming, “Beef Top Loin Steak Boneless,” the new label can say:
Great for Topping Salads
Best When Grilled
Or, in the Flat Iron example mentioned previously, the new label will read:
Flat Iron Steak
Beef Shoulder, Top Blade, Boneless
Some retailers will go a step further by including a label with specific cooking instructions and/or a recipe.
“We are pleased to have industry support to introduce new, simplified fresh meat names that will help consumers better understand the beef and pork cuts they see every day in the meat case,” says Jim Henger, senior executive director of B2B Marketing for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the beef checkoff program.
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“This is a really historic event for the meat industry,” says Patrick Fleming, NPB’s director of retail marketing. “This cross-industry effort to develop new common names was completely consumer-driven, and is something that we all recognize as critical to keeping meat on the center of the plate.”
After being introduced to the new naming system, 63% of consumers said they were likely to try a new cut of meat, and 77% said they were likely to find and go to a store that had this program.
Imagine that: a labeling program that consumers care about, and one that promises to help market more beef rather than hinder it, like COOL does.
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