Four US Senators announced legislation regarding the American Beef Labeling Act which mandates the reinstatement of beef and beef products into the existing Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) law and allows for a 12-month development and implementation grace period.
Senators John Thune (R-SD), a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) jointly announced the bill.
The development and implementation period is designated for the US Trade Representative and the Secretary of Agriculture to determine a means of reinstating MCOOL for beef that complies with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. Congress repealed the US country of origin labeling (COOL) law in 2015 after a series of rulings by the WTO against the law. The WTO authorized Canada and Mexico to impose retaliatory tariffs of almost $1 billion against US products.
“Transparency in labeling benefits both producers and consumers,” Thune said. “Unfortunately, the current beef labeling system in this country allows imported beef that is neither born nor raised in the United States, but simply finished here, to be labeled as a product of the USA. This process is unfair to cattle producers and misleading for consumers. When you see a ‘product of the USA’ label on the grocery store shelf, it should mean just that.”
Organizations representing ranchers applauded the legislation.
“This Thune/Tester/Rounds/Booker MCOOL bill is critically needed to restore competition to the nation’s broken cattle and beef markets marked by inflated beef prices paid by consumers and depressed cattle prices paid to US cattle producers,” said Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF USA. “Only with MCOOL for beef can cattle producers compete in their own domestic market where packers and importers – and not cattle producers and consumers – currently decide how much foreign beef they will import into the US market to displace domestic beef production and reduce demand for cattle exclusively born and raised in the United States.”
Farm Action Fund Alliance and its political arm, Farm Action Fund, said the American Beef Labeling Act would give the Biden Administration the authority to “act on grave limitations to food labeling” while remaining compliant with WTO rules. Currently, labeling policy permits meat and poultry products sourced from animals born, raised and slaughtered in another country but minimally or repackaged in a US Department of Agriculture-inspected facility to be labeled “Product of USA.”
Stakeholders in the beef industry and government officials say the labels are causing confusion among consumers who are increasingly concerned with the origins of the foods they eat. The issue of meat labeling has led some organizations to call for the reinstatement of country of origin labels.
“For our food system to be truly competitive, Congress has to stop big meatpackers’ deception and protect honest producers and consumers,” said Joe Maxwell, president of Farm Action Fund Alliance.
In response, Rounds and other lawmakers supported a proposed a law that would limit the “Product of USA” label to beef sourced from cattle that are born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.
In July, the US Department of Agriculture announced a comprehensive review of the “Product of USA” label for meat which is managed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
“We have taken note of the many comments submitted to USDA and the FTC regarding meat labeling and understand that the current ‘Product of USA’ label on meat products may no longer effectively serve either of those purposes, to the detriment of consumers, producers, and fair and competitive markets,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the time.