Are We Entitled to Know Where Meat Comes From?
According to cattle and pork associations, the answer is a resounding “no.”
In an effort to combat new labeling rules that were implemented in May — rules that would require them to provide more details about the origins of their products — these groups are taking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to court.
The original country of original labeling (otherwise known as COOL) rules went into effect in 2009 and were opposed at the time by U.S. producers, as well as by Canadian and Mexican producers who were worried that consumers and retailers would be less likely to buy and sell their products.
They told the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the rules discriminated against their products, and the WTO agreed, partially struck down COOL and gave the USDA until May to fix the matter.
Under the USDA’s new plan, producers will have to add potentially unappetizing information about where animals were born, raised and slaughtered. Before the rules went into effect, only the country of origin was required on labels.
While the agency believes it’s a move that will help with transparency, which will benefit consumers, the American Meat Institute and seven other industry groups disagree, claiming that it would cost too much to implement, serve no health or safety benefit and that it violates the First Amendment protection against compelled speech.
The industry is also opposing a rule that would prevent mixing meat from animals who were slaughtered abroad with meat from animals slaughtered in the U.S.
“Segregating and tracking animals according to the countries where production steps occurred and detailing that information on a label may be a bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy, but the labels that result will serve only to confuse consumers, raise the prices they pay, and put some producers and meat and poultry companies out of business in the process,” Mark Dopp, an American Meat Institute executive, said in a statement.
How exactly a label that reads something like “Born in Mexico, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.” will further confuse people is unclear.
Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America offered the Capital Press another motive, stating that, “The only reason this lawsuit has been filed is because the meatpackers … want to continue to exploit U.S. consumers by sourcing cheaper imported cattle and selling beef at the full price based on the U.S. cattle producers’ reputation.”
Whatever the reason for the opposition is, the USDA still believes this labeling will help consumers make informed choices, reports the AP. Other farmers and consumer advocacy groups including the National Farmers Union, Consumers Union and Food & Water Watch also support the rules and believe that segregating meat will help with food safety issues, making products easier to track and allowing consumers to avoid products if there’s a problem.
Considering one of the original issues, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease, and the recent horse meat scandal in Europe, additional tracking and labeling on products doesn’t seem like such an outlandish idea or requirement.
Some animal advocacy organizations also support COOL and believe that the rules may help animals by reducing long-distance transport. According to the Animal Welfare Institute, many slaughterhouses in the U.S. have stopped processing foreign livestock because of the increased costs.
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