U.S. Sens. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) and Mike Rounds (R., S.D.), along with a bipartisan group of their colleagues, introduced a resolution May 13 to support mandatory country-of-origin labeling (mCOOL) for beef products in the U.S. in an effort to provide critical support to American cattle producers hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The resolution, co-sponsored by Sens. Steve Daines (R., Mont.), John Thune (R., S.D.) and Cory Booker (D., N.J.), urges the U.S. to enter into necessary trade negotiations to allow mCOOL to be re-implemented in a manner that is compliant with World Trade Organization regulations. Re-implementing mCOOL would bring back laws and regulations repealed in 2015 that required retailers to inform customers which country beef commodities originated in, providing more transparency to American shoppers and giving American producers a competitive edge.
Tester said, “It’s no secret that Montana ranchers raise the finest beef in the world, but American consumers have no way of knowing if the steak they’re getting at the supermarket comes from Absarokee or Australia. It’s clear that Americans want to buy American-made products if they have the option, and country-of-origin labeling gives Montana producers the upper hand by showing that their cattle were raised within our borders, not halfway around the world.”
Rounds noted that mCOOL for beef products "fits within our discussions on how to improve food security, transparency for consumers and supply chain issues, all of which have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, threatening both producers and consumers. This is not only misleading to consumers when they purchase meat at the grocery store, [but] it puts our producers at a competitive disadvantage when marketing their products.”
He added that this resolution is the broadest and strongest bipartisan support seen for mCOOL since it was eliminated in 2015, and it begins the critical and necessary discussion on food security in America. “This is a win-win for producers and consumers. MCOOL proponents – including those who represent consumers and cattle producers – who are sincerely interested in moving the ball forward on mCOOL should get behind our legislation and help force the issue.
“Our goal should be to gain support and include it in must-pass COVID-19 legislation, both of which will encourage the President’s action,” Rounds said.
COOL regulations are currently in effect for several products, including chicken, lamb, goat, farm-raised and wild-caught fish and shellfish and most nuts. In 2015, however, Congress repealed the law requiring the origin labels for beef, reducing the competitive advantage for American-made beef products. The senators said that decision has been blamed for tumbling prices and forcing American producers to compete with foreign meat.
Tester and Rounds have been outspoken critics of importing beef from Brazil after reports surfaced in 2017 that the country was exporting rotten beef and attempting to cover it up with cancer-causing acid products. The senators and a bipartisan group of 12 colleagues sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture re-evaluate the decision to lift the ban on Brazilian beef imports implemented in 2017.
R-CALF USA, an industry group that has long advocated for mCOOL, said the resolution falls short of what the industry needs, and it continues to “work aggressively” to find members of Congress willing to introduce new mCOOL legislation.
In late April, with the help of Cowboys for Trump and grassroots rancher-members of R-CALF USA, R-CALF USA launched a petition drive at www.DemandUSABeef.com calling on Congress and President Donald Trump to immediately pass mCOOL for beef, pork and dairy products to strengthen America's food security interests and help stimulate economic growth.
R-CALF USA chief executive officer Bill Bullard said currently more than 375,000 petitioners have urged Congress and the President to pass new mCOOL legislation as an essential response to this ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Bullard pointed out that during the pandemic, while American cattle ranchers are being denied access to their own markets and have been for several weeks, packers and other importers have continued to import tens of thousands of foreign cattle into the U.S. each week from Canada and Mexico.
"It's unconscionable for the U.S. to allow foreign cattle to displace American cattle producers' access to their own domestic market, and only with mCOOL can consumers begin supporting the American food supply chain by choosing to buy beef that is exclusively born, raised and harvested in the United States," he said.
Bullard noted that the resolution filed today will not provide U.S. cattle producers any relief from the rising tide of imported cattle and beef arriving from about 20 foreign countries.