Labeling legislation: Bipartisan legislation to ensure American beef earns ‘product of USA’ label introduced
On Sept. 9, U.S. Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT), John Thune (R-SD), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) jointly announced bipartisan legislation to provide fair prices for beef producers and transparency for consumers.
The American Beef Labeling Act of 2021, which would reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef, is expected to be introduced this week.
“Transparency in labeling benefits both producers and consumers,” Thune said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the current beef labeling system in this country allows imported beef that is neither born nor raised in the United States, but simply finished here, to be labeled as a product of the USA.”
He continued, “This process is unfair to cattle producers and misleading for consumers. When you see a ‘product of the USA’ label on the grocery store shelf, it should mean just that.”
Reinstating beef labeling
Amending the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, the legislation reinserts “beef” and “ground beef” into the current MCOOL law, which currently requires country of origin labels on numerous food commodities, including meat sourced from chickens, sheep, goats and deer.
The legislation also requires the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in consultation with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, to develop a World Trade Organization-compliant means of reinstating MCOOL for beef within one year of the act’s passage.
The act allows six months for the USTR to develop a reinstatement plan, followed by a six-month window for implementation. Should the USTR fail to reinstate MCOOL for beef, it would automatically be reinstated.
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) Vice President Justin Tupper commented, “This legislation provides a pathway for achieving clear, accurate labels so consumers can continue choosing to put high-quality American beef on their plates.”
Issues in beef industry
This legislation comes following concerns within the beef industry, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the availability of protein in the food supply chain, as well as the announcement of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, cases in Brazil – a notable exporter of beef to the U.S.
“The pandemic has only heightened [cattle producers’] important role in our domestic food supply and the urgent need to strengthen it,” said Thune. “To ensure the viability of cattle ranching in this country, the system in which producers operate must be fair and transparent. As a long-time supporter of MCOOL, I am proud to introduce this legislation, which will move us one step closer to making this a reality.”
Tester shared, “With the announcement this week there is another mad cow disease outbreak in foreign meat, it’s more important than ever consumers know when they’re buying American beef at the supermarket. This bipartisan legislation will level the playing field for Montana’s family farmers and ranchers and protect the health and safety of American families.”
Support from beef organizations
The announcement of the legislation reinstating MCOOL for beef has earned praise from cattle groups across the nation.
Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) CEO Bill Bullard commented, “We are profoundly appreciative of Sens. Thune, Tester, Rounds and Booker for taking the lead in representing the interests of their respective cattle producing and beef consuming constituents by introducing this critically important MCOOL bill.”
Bullard continued, “Only with MCOOL for beef can cattle producers compete in their own domestic market where packers and importers – and not cattle producers and consumers – currently decide how much foreign beef they will import into the U.S. market to displace domestic beef production and reduce demand for cattle exclusively born and raised in the U.S.”
“We greatly appreciate the work of Sens. Thune and Tester in continuing to push forward solutions to define what constitutes a U.S. beef product,” said Tupper. “From the perspective of the USCA, this label should pertain only to beef that was born, raised and harvested in the USA.”
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.