Where’s Your Meat From? Congress Repeals Country-of-Origin Labeling
As many Americans continue to move toward more conscious eating that places an emphasis on consuming responsible, organic foods, we’ve seen more labels in our supermarkets. The country-of-origin labeling rule (COOL), first authorized in 2002, mandated that our meat labels list the country where the product was produced. However that provision was repealed in the budget bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama late last week–which means that country-of-origin labels will no longer appear on meat, specifically beef and pork, sold in the United States.
But this move on Congress’s part isn’t about a departure from increased labeling–it’s about the possible international affairs and economic side effects of continuing the labeling. The COOL labeling has been controversial on the world stage from the beginning, because other countries feared it could cause American consumers to discriminate against their meat products for no reason other than that competitors’ products were produced in the United States. Last week, the World Trade Organization (WTO) authorized Canada and Mexico, two of the U.S.’s major trading partners, to tax American products to make up for the cost of the COOL regulations.
The concerns over those costs, as well as the fact that these taxes could be extended to other products, caused Congress to repeal the provision specifically on beef and pork, but labeling will remain on other products. Any meat that comes into the United States from another country will still be inspected by the USDA before it makes it into consumers hands. However, many Americans are unhappy with Congress’s choice to change the labeling requirements overall. Most notably, this comes in contrast to what Americans seemingly want. According to a 2013 study by the Consumer Federation of America:
Eighty-seven percent (87 percent) of adults favored, either strongly or somewhat, requiring food sellers to indicate on the package label the country or countries in which animals were born, raised and processed. Similarly, ninety percent (90 percent) of adults favored, either strongly or somewhat, requiring food sellers to indicate on the package label the country or countries in which animals were born and raised and the fact that the meat was processed in the U.S.
Supporters of COOL have floated particular concerns about Brazilian beef, because the country has had an outbreak of Mad Cow Disease as recently as 2014. According to Willy Blackmore, of TakePart, “there could soon be between 20,000 and 65,000 metric tons of fresh or frozen Brazilian beef—about 1 percent of U.S. beef imports—coming into the country annually.”
So, the vote was kind of a lose-lose for Congress–either way it was going to make some people mad. But for now, we won’t be seeing country-of-origin labels on our beef or pork–we’ll have to see how long that change lasts.