Thursday, April 06, 2017

Will Trump Revive COOL and Make American Meat Great Again?

The question “Where does my meat come from?” took on new urgency last month when a corruption scandal at JBS, the world’s largest meatpacking company, prompted countries around the world to ban imports of Brazilian beef to avoid tainted meat. Although the scandal hasn’t directly impacted the U.S. yet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it was stepping up inspections of Brazilian beef, while lawmakers called for both a ban and more oversight of such imports. But U.S. consumers have no way of knowing whether the beef in their local grocery store comes from Brazil. That’s because while the USDA requires some meat imports to be labeled, beef and pork became exempt last year following Congress’s repeal of the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. COOL was—and is—supported by many U.S. ranchers and food safety advocates. But the regulations ran afoul of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and would have resulted in massive tariffs on U.S. products, prompting lawmakers to rescind the rule. Big meat producers and their trade associations lobbied against COOL requirements and continue to oppose them, arguing that they’re costly and provide few benefits. But now, some COOL advocates see an opening to push for this labeling under President Trump’s call to “Buy American.” Their efforts raise important questions about what, if anything, country-of-origin labeling can do to support safely—and fairly—produced meat. Under current USDA regulations, beef, pork, and turkey need not carry country of origin labels, while chicken, lamb, and other meat products do. All meat must pass USDA inspection and typically caries a USDA “inspected” label. But what consumers see at the supermarket varies widely. Costco and Safeway/Albertsons both confirmed that they no longer require country-of-origin labels on beef or pork per the new federal rules. Kroger’s QFC stores label the certified Angus beef they sell with “Product of USA” stickers, but those labels won’t necessarily appear on all U.S.-produced beef. And some retailers’ packages don’t include a USDA “inspected” label. Meanwhile, stores that support labeling and local food go well beyond federal requirements. Whole Foods uses country-of-origin labels on all of its meats, including beef, pork, and turkey. And the Oregon-based New Seasons chain’s meat has shelf-tags with specific language about the source, such as “Oregon & Washington” or “Western States” and often include the name of the farm that supplied the meat...more

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