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Mandatory COOL Has A Long Way To Go

USDA is strongly indicating changes to the mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) regulations, or at least changes in the interpretation of the rule. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week he intends to ask packers to label each meat package with the country in which the animal was born, the country in which it was raised and the country in which it was slaughtered. He’s also seeking to change the window for ground-meat sourcing from 60 days to 10 days.

Due to the declining economy and concerns about American protectionist policies, tensions have already increased around the globe; the likelihood of increased trade wars and disruptions is very real.

While I’m not sure anyone understands the rulemaking process, it appears Vilsack is seeking agreement from the packing industry to these changes; it’s not going to be an easy sale. Failing to get agreement, we may be faced with yet another rulemaking process.

But it appears the changes may be inevitable. The real question is timing, and when we actually see full implementation.

On related notes: With the strength of the Canadian dollar, higher feed costs, and concerns about MCOOL, the Canadian cattle inventory declined for the fourth-straight year in 2008. Canadian beef-cow numbers were down 6.6% to 4.655 million head.

Meanwhile, U.S. beef exports rose by 34.8% in 2008 in volume and by 40.3% in value. We are now within a half-billion lbs. of the 2003 pre-BSE levels. Mexico and Canada are our top two beef customers, respectively, and represent more than half of U.S. export totals in terms of dollars. However, those purchases could drop sharply in 2009 depending on the course of trade retaliation on which Canada and Mexico embark.