North American Pork Producers Call for Immediate Direction in Regards to M-COOL

by 5m Editor
19 April 2008, at 6:10am

CANADA - Pork producers on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border are appealing for answers to as yet unresolved questions over pending mandatory U.S. Country of Origin Labelling (M-COOL) legislation.

Originally proposed in the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill, M-COOL called for beef, lamb, pork, fish, perishable agricultural commodities and peanuts sold at retail to be labelled according to their country of origin. Due to a range of concerns implementation of the mandatory component of COOL for all covered commodities, except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, has twice been delayed. It is now scheduled to come into effect as part of the 2008 Farm Bill at the end of September. However, as of yet due to several unresolved issues not related to M-COOL, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been unable to agree on a final version of the 2008 Farm Bill. Until that happens, rules governing the controversial provision can not be finalized.

Pork Producers Especially Concerned

The provision is of particular concern to pork producers. Under the latest proposed compromise pork from pigs born, raised and slaughtered in the United States would be labelled “Product of the U.S.”, Pork from animals born, raised and slaughtered in another country, including Canada, would be labelled as a product of that country, for example “Product of Canada,” and pork from pigs born in Canada, raised in either Canada or the U.S. and slaughtered in the U.S. would be labelled “Product of the U.S. and Canada.”

Pork producers had hoped the labelling issue would be resolved by April 18 but a one-week extension of current farm bill, passed by the House of Representatives to provide more time to negotiate a compromise, has added a further delay. Even if the Senate and House can agree to a final version of the Farm Bill, there are indications it could be vetoed when it reaches the desk of the President.

“Everything’s in limbo, so it’s kind of chaotic,” observes National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) vice-president Sam Carney. He believes the rules should actually have been published at least a year in advance outlining what will be required in terms of records, what the processors will want, what the packers will want but nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen.

Canada U.S. Trade Disrupted

With the scheduled September 30 implementation date looming, the ongoing uncertainty over what ultimately will be required has already started to disrupt the movement of live Canadian weanling pigs into the U.S.

“The problem is that some of the U.S. packers have said, come September, that they are going to not continue to accept Canadian origin pigs,” explains Manitoba Pork Council Chairman Karl Kynoch.

As a result, several U.S. producers who had been sourcing Canadian weanlings have either canceled or allowed contracts with Canadian weanling producers to lapse. That has created a backlog of these pigs in Canada raising the prospects that some may have to be euthanized.

“Most pigs that would be purchased as a weanling, anything after roughly April 1, may end up actually going to slaughter or processing after that September 30 date,” notes Minnesota Pork Producers Association executive director Dave Preisler. “If you’re buying a little heavier feeder pigs, then we’re maybe looking into May or June.”

U.S. Customers Fearful of Buying Canadian Pigs

“It’s getting very difficult to sell isoweans from Canada into the U.S. because of the September 30 deadline,” says Boyd Penner, a livestock broker with Southeast Marketing Limited in Steinbach.

He says the situation is creating a great deal of stress on both sides of the border. He is convinced his U.S. customers want to maintain the relationships they have developed with their Canadian suppliers and continue buying Canadian pigs but they are very concerned that the U.S. processors will refuse to kill them.

“The American producers are definitely on the Canadian side.”

Preisler expects the uncertainty to continue until the wording has been finalized and the actual rules have been written and he expects the situation to vary from packer to packer.

“Packers, in most cases, are certainly not tipping their hands because they don’t know how the actual rule will turn out. They’re getting feedback in some cases from retailers as to what they want to see and what they want to buy and so it obviously creates a period of time of great unknown.”

Minnesota Pork Producers has been consistent in encouraging its producers to be communicating with their packers to see what their intentions are. “Obviously we would like to have clear direction but we don’t so that’s where we’re sitting at today,” says Preisler.

Kynoch urges the U.S. senators and congressmen, get the issue resolved. “Whether the outcome of COOL is good or bad, producers in the U.S. and Canada need to know what the writing of the regulation of COOL is so that the industry can make informed decisions on the restructuring of their business going forward.”

“The thing is there’s sows bred, there’s pigs being born every day. We’re just not sure if there’s going to be a home for them later on when they reach maturity and are ready to go into the markets. Right now we’re already up against the wall of having to get Country of Origin Labelling resolved.”

American Producers Oppose Mandatory Labelling Provision

The Minnesota Pork Producers Association and the National Pork Producers Council have also been consistent in expressing their opposition to mandatory-COOL.

Carney acknowledges some producers like it and some producers don’t, especially those who are feeding Canadian pigs. He views the provision as being something the government wants, not producers, and he finds it difficult to understand the desire to impose more costs on an industry already facing substantial costs.

Preisler agrees, “We’re not a fan of Country of Origin Labelling, but there are larger political barriers that have come to bear here that have made it difficult to fight. It has nothing necessarily to do with pork but has other things to do with, for example, beef and also some of the trade problems with imports that came from China. It just created a very negative tone in Washington, D.C. towards imports and we don’t believe there’s anything wrong with imported Canadian but it gets caught up in a larger firestorm.”

He notes there’s been a number of discussions with packers and producers and retailers and there has been kind of a middle ground that has been negotiated.

“Obviously we don’t want to go backward on that middle ground. There are some groups out there that don’t even like that middle ground and so we’re struggling to just maintain that middle ground that has been negotiated over the last several months.”

Phase-in Period Recommended

Carney admits he has just been trying to make things work so everyone can get along but, he says, coming up with something that can be accepted by everyone has been really difficult.

He suggests, “Even if we get something passed, we’re going to have to have a phase in time because nobody knows. You can’t just make a rule overnight as pork production starts in advance. As you feed those pigs, by the time they get to a harvest facility, you’ve got to know what you require for records so I hope there’s a break-in time in there so people know what’s going on, producers especially.”

Kynoch believes the uncertainty of the COOL legislation needs to get sorted out immediately so packers and producers can move forward and do what they do best, produce food and care for animals and create employment to benefit all North Americans.

“I would ask that the senators and congressmen get this sorted out immediately. We have people starving in the world and here we have people talking about euthanizing pigs. This goes against everything the farmers stand for.”

5m Editor