U.S. Pork Producers: Facts on COOL

US - New issue brief looks at economic factors of mandatory country-of-origin meat labeling and the reasons why American pork producers believe it will be detrimental to their livelihoods.
calendar icon 8 July 2003
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MCOOL for Meat: A Permanent Advantage for Poultry

The mandatory country-of-origin labeling provision (MCOOL) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 will have a dramatic effect on the competitiveness of U.S.-origin pork in U.S. retail meat cases. The U.S. chicken and turkey industries will gain a permanent cost advantage over pork because:

  • Chicken and turkey are not covered by the MCOOL law, and
  • The current structure of the U.S. chicken and turkey industries would allow them to meet MCOOL law's requirements at virtually no additional cost.
Chicken and turkey are not covered by the MCOOL law. This is true regardless of whether chickens and/or turkeys are sold in a retail meat case or a restaurant. Why? Because the poultry sector did not ask to be covered under the law.

The exclusion of the poultry sector, which accounts for just less than 50 percent of U.S. per capita meat consumption in 2002, speaks volumes about the supposed issues of "food safety" or a "consumer's right to know."

If the law is about food safety and "consumers right to know" about the origin of food they eat, why is the poultry sector exempted? The answer is that this law is NOT about food safety or consumers' right to know. It is about keeping imported pork, beef, lamb and other covered products out of U.S. retail meat cases by imposing additional costs on these products.

The trouble for U.S. producers is that the law imposes costs on ALL of the covered products, not just the imported products because it requires some type of "verifiable" proof of the origin of ALL covered products, even those of U.S. origin.

It wouldn't make any difference if chicken and turkey were included as covered products in the MCOOL law. Virtually all U.S. chicken and turkey comes from vertically integrated production and processing systems.

These systems, by design, control the product from the genetic stock all the way through laying flocks, egg production, setting, hatching, growing, slaughtering, processing and distribution. These systems KNOW the source of every bird and every product made from those birds. Record keeping for chickens or turkeys is far simpler than for market hogs simply due to the shorter lengths of their life cycles.

Furthermore, since virtually no chicken or turkey is imported into the U.S., chicken and turkey companies can be more certain that all of their production is "born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.," automatically qualifying it under the law to carry the "Product of the U.S." label. Including chicken and turkey as covered products in the MCOOL law would impose no additional records, auditing, segregation or logistical costs on chicken and turkey products. Thus, including chicken and turkey under the law will not level the playing field for other U.S. meat species.

What is the answer? The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is calling on Congress to repeal the mandatory provision of the country-of-origin labeling law for hogs and pork products.

NPPC believes that the MCOOL law will hand a permanent advantage to the U.S. chicken and turkey industries that will work to the long-term detriment of thousands of pork producers. Including chicken and turkey in MCOOL will not fix the law or level the playing field.

The vertically integrated nature of the poultry industry allows it to meet the requirements of the MCOOL law at virtually no additional cost. So, the poultry industry's advantage is not due to its exclusion from the MCOOL law but due to the inclusion of the other meat sectors whose structure makes fulfilling MCOOL requirements more difficult and expensive.

NPPC urges Congress to replace the MCOOL provision with a workable voluntary COOL program. If there are consumers willing to pay a premium for country-of-origin labeled pork, a voluntary system would allow entrepreneurs to create and capture such value through the pork chain.

NPPC believes that this trade protectionist law, as currently structured, will force thousands of independent pork producers out of business because it confers a permanent cost advantage to the chicken and turkey industries. This cost advantage will inevitably encourage U.S. consumers to purchase chicken and turkey in lieu of pork products.

Source: NPPC - 7th July 2003
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