American exceptionalism — except for what farmers grow

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In the chaos that surrounded Congress leaving Washington, D.C. for a flag-waving Memorial Day holiday, your House Ag Committee found time May 20 to vote to kill Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL, for beef, pork and chicken sold in the U.S.

Confusing move

If you carnivores out here are keeping score, the Ag Committee vote was the latest confusing government move to keep, then kill, then keep, then change, then kill one of the most popular, definitive food labeling laws in the world.

In fact, country of origin labeling for red meat and poultry is so popular around the world that more than 60 nations have a World Trade Organization-legal version of it, noted Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN, prior to the lopsided, 38-6 committee vote to repeal.

No repeal

The aggie move, however, doesn’t repeal the law; that will take full House and Senate approval, then White House consent. While the first step is all but assured, the glacially slow Senate may not even take up the idea and, if it does, approval is not guaranteed.

If Congress does move to kill COOL, the White House would be in a bind. For years it has been a consistent supporter of the inconsistent: it supports both COOL and the WTO. If forced to choose one over the other, however, bet that it picks the WTO–with regret, to be sure, but without pause. The incredibly fast Ag Committee action (the WTO had ruled against the U.S. COOL law just 48 hours earlier) and overwhelming vote was a huge victory for Big Ag and knowing ignorance, and a stinging defeat for consumers and transparency.

Food safety

Even at that, however, the vote was not Congress protecting the nation’s food safety. That nonsense is what COOL haters want the public to believe because they know this lie is far easier to sell than the actual truth.

Truth is, COOL isn’t about food safety; it never was. COOL is about freedom to choose; your right to know everything you can about what you buy to put in your mouth and the mouths of your family.

Shameful as it is for Congress to, again, work to deny Americans this valuable right, three so-called farm groups–the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the National Milk Producers Federation–have more to be ashamed of.

COOL legislation

Since COOL’s legislative inception in 2002, NCBA, NPPC, and NMPF have spent millions to buy one-sided, anti-COOL studies they’ve used to condemn it; they’ve help finance years-long lawsuits to fights its implementation (the money went down a rat hole; federal courts have consistently held the law constitutional) or have it killed; and they’ve financed political candidates who oppose it. Their anti-COOL stance was–is–simple to understand.

Exports

Influential agbiz group members have hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars riding on unrestricted global trade. That means any law that slows exports of U.S. meat or milk products abroad or the import of foreign animals and food here costs ’em markets, sales, and profits. COOL backers get it; always have.

What they will never understand, however, is why Big Ag has not used its legal firepower, political influence, and deep pockets to develop a workable county of origin labeling policy that is both WTO legal and delivers what more than eight out of 10 Americans say they want to know: whether or not the chicken they’re eating is Chinese or the sirloin on the grill is Sonoran.

Exceptional

Other countries have COOL. What, we not as smart or clever as them? Aren’t we “exceptional”?

In fact, if America and its farmers and ranchers are truly “exceptional,” as Big Ag and these anti-COOL commodity groups unfailingly sing, why then is what U.S. farmers and ranchers grow and sell in their own country not good enough to even be labeled American?

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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