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Where's the beef coming from? The congressional push to revive country of origin labeling

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 11:08 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Where’s your beef coming from?

That’s what a group of bipartisan lawmakers want you to know when you pick up your prime cuts from the grocery store.

Republican Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) says the current beef labeling system in this country allows imported beef that isn’t born or raised in the United States to be labeled as a product of the USA.

“I think a mandatory country of origin labeling law, with respect to beef, not only makes sure that producers are realizing the benefit of the quality that they produce, but the consumer is also getting the benefit of that,” said Sen. Thune. “I think you’ll have more demand for American products, born raised and harvested in the USA if consumers knew they had that option available to them.”

Alongside Sen. Thune, Democrat Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.) aims to narrow what’s considered to be “Made in America” by cosponsoring mandatory country of origin beef labeling legislation.

“If you give the consumer the choice of what they are going to buy, I think most people, the lion’s share of folks, are going to buy that USA product,” said Sen. Tester.

Mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) is not a new concept in the meatpacking industry, in fact, the measure was established in the early 2000s. It was abandoned by Congress in 2016, though, due to compliance cost issues and agreement concerns from the World Trade Organization (WTO).

According to Sen. Thune, The WTO is essentially the global referee when it comes to trade between nations.

Sens. Thune and Tester plan to make the USDA and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) collaborate to find language that will satisfy the WTO.

Specifically, the American Beef Labeling Act would give the USTR six months to develop a reinstatement plan followed by a six-month window to implement it. If USTR fails to reinstate MCOOL for beef within one year of enactment, Sen. Thune says MCOOL would automatically be reinstated for beef only.

Matt Teagarden, CEO of the Kansas Livestock Association, says he supports the concept but not the push to make MCOOL mandatory. He fears the bill will put the U.S in violation of trade obligations, again

“We were facing over a billion dollars in retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico,” said Teagarden. “The benefits that proponents suggested would come to producers and consumers just didn’t materialize.”

The American Beef Labeling Act has been formally introduced in the Senate.

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