USDA modifies mandatory COOL rule

SALEM, Ohio — Is the USDA’s final rule on country-of-origin labeling good or bad for agriculture? The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and R-Calf USA are split on the latest modification of the mandatory country-of-origin labeling rule for beef, pork, chicken and lamb.

The final rule issued by the USDA requires the origin designations of muscle cut meats to include information about where each of the production steps (i.e., born, raised, slaughtered) occurred.

It took effect May 23, and is mandatory as of that date, although older, less-specific labels may be used until already-printed supplies are used up.

New labels

For muscle cuts that previously were designated as “Product of the U.S.” the new label would read, “Born, Raised, and Slaughtered in the United States.”

For animals, like some feeder cattle, born in another country and then raised and slaughtered in the United States, the label would read “Born in Country X, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States.”

For animals that spend a more extended time being raised in another country and imported just for slaughter, the label would read “Born and Raised in Country X, Slaughtered in the United States.”

The labeling mandate also covers goat meat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, and perishable agricultural commodities.

Trade issue

The World Trade Organization in June 2012 determined that COOL was being implemented in a way that was a disadvantage for imported livestock from Canada and Mexico. It ordered USDA to take another look into the COOL rule and issued a deadline of May 23.

The COOL rule was modified just in time to meet the deadline imposed by the WTO.

Mixed reactions

“USDA’s final rule is right on the mark,” said R-CALF USA COOL Committee Chair Mike Schultz. “We are pleased that USDA did not weaken COOL in response to the WTO’s attack on our domestic food labeling program.”
The NCBA does not share the same feelings, calling the action “short-sighted.”

“Our largest trading partners have already said that these provisions will not bring the United States into compliance with our WTO obligations and will result in increased discrimination against imported products and in turn retaliatory tariffs or other authorized trade sanctions,” the cattlemen’s association said in a prepared statement.
“While trying to make an untenable mandate fit with our international trade obligations, USDA chose to set up U.S. cattle producers for financial losses. Moreover, this rule will place a greater record-keeping burden on producers, feeders and processors through the born, raised and harvested label,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Scott George, a Cody, Wyo. dairy and cattle producer.

USDA

According to the USDA, the WTO felt the existing COOL regulations required more information from cattle suppliers than what was actually being transmitted to consumers through the labels on beef. The WTO alleged that COOL was providing too many disadvantages for foreign livestock.

Under the final COOL rule, all origin labels for muscle cuts of meat slaughtered in the U.S. must now specify the production steps of birth, raising, and slaughter of the animal from which the meat is derived that took place in each country listed on the label.

The USDA estimates the label change could cost the industry between $17 million and $47.3 million to implement.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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