AMI Says Costly, Cumbersome COOL Law Has No Clear Benefits

Washington, DC - Institute Official Urges Repeal of Law at USDA Listening Session
calendar icon 25 June 2003
clock icon 5 minute read
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No evidence exists that mandatory country-of-origin labeling will benefit livestock producers, meat packers, retailers or consumers, according to American Meat Institute Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark Dopp. Dopp spoke at a USDA-sponsored public “listening session“ about the new law, which goes into effect in September 2004.

AMI Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Janet Riley also addressed the session, characterizing the controversial country-of-origin law as “bad public policy“ passed by the U.S. Congress under cover of darkness. She urged the repeal of the law in favor of a voluntary program. In addition, Riley rebutted claims that a study by researchers at Colorado State University and the University of Nebraska proves that consumers want country-of-origin labeling and are willing to pay more for such labels. Riley noted that the researchers themselves have issued a statement urging that such conclusions not be drawn from the limited research.

In his remarks, Dopp first answered the law’s proponents who are capitalizing on a single case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada to promote country-of-origin labeling.

“BSE is an animal health issue and it is inappropriate for people to link it with the country-of-origin labeling law,“ Dopp said. “To do so is to engage in irresponsible fear mongering that only undermines the public’s confidence in the beef supply.“

While some proponents contend that food safety concerns justify mandatory country-of-origin labeling, he said there is no substance to this argument.

“Consider this: the law will require that labeling of meat derived from three different animals -- one each born in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. -- must be different -- even though all three animals are slaughtered at the same U.S. plant, inspected by the same USDA inspector, and subject to the same food safety criteria,“ Dopp said.

Dopp also said that arguments that country-of-origin labeling is a consumer right-to-know issue are a red herring. “Put simply, the right-to-know argument means that such a right exists regarding the hamburger one buys at the grocery store, but no such right exists regarding the processed beef item bought at a grocery store, or the hamburger eaten at a restaurant on the way home from the grocery store -- even if the beef for all three items came from the very same animal.“

There is little credible evidence that consumers even want country-of-origin labeling, Riley said in her testimony. Proponents are hailing a recent Colorado State University study as “overwhelming evidence“ of consumer desire for country-of-origin labeling. However, after hearing the law’s proponents misrepresent the study’s conclusions, the study’s authors issued a clarifying statement saying the study should not be used as the basis for economic analyses or public policy, Riley said.

In fact, Riley said that when the researchers asked consumers which factors have the most significant impact on their beef purchases, country-of-origin labeling was not in the top three, or the top five, but was the eighth most important factor – well behind price, freshness and quality.

“We know there is a major difference between what consumers say they do or will do in the marketplace and what they actually do,“ Riley said. “If consumers always did what they said they would do, then New Year’s resolutions would be the solution to the obesity problem in America.“

Instead of a mandatory program that will be costly to packers and is untested in the marketplace, Riley suggested a voluntary program to allow those who believe they will benefit from a country-of-origin label to use the marketplace to pursue such an advantage.

“But let the rest of the industry make decisions that are right for their businesses. In our view, that is simply the American way,“ Riley said.

Country-of-origin labeling also stands to create enormous disruptions in the international trade arena, Dopp said. The U.S. exports more than $1.2 billion worth of beef and pork to Canada and Mexico. Central Canada has a thriving feeder pig industry that supplies hogs to Midwest producers. Western Canada also has extensive feedlots and packing plants supplying fresh beef along our West Coast. The efficient, duty-free flow of livestock and meat will cease under mandatory country-of-origin labeling.

“When all the rhetoric is stripped away, this law is a thinly veiled non-tariff trade barrier, an attempt to build a 21st century regulatory ‘Great Wall’ around the United States,“ Dopp said. “In doing so, it imposes a substantial duty on retailers and packers to provide accurate country-of-origin information.“

Dopp concluded by saying that if the law were a grocer-of-origin law, or a packer-of-origin law, nothing would be required of the producer. “But Congress, knowing full well our international obligations, passed a country-of-origin law and only the producer knows where the animal was born and can provide that information – not the packer and not the retailer.“

Source: American Meat Institute (AMI) - 24th June 2003

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