MCOOL to be Reintroduced
By: Sydney Sheffield
The American Beef Labeling Act was recently introduced by Senators John Thune (R-SD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Mike Rounds (R-SD) to push to improve market transparency and ensure fairer prices for producers. The Act will reinstate Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) for beef, something that has mixed reviews among those in the industry. It is worth noting, Booker recently introduced the Farm System Reform Act, which includes reinstating MCOOL, placing a moratorium on concentrated animal feeding operations, among other actions.
MCOOL was part of the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills, specifically for US farmers who compete with the Canadian cattle industry. It became law in 2009, covering beef, pork, chicken, and other products. In 2015, Congress repealed the original COOL labeling to avoid tariffs set by Canada and Mexico, authorized by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Since then, various bills have been introduced to reinstate MCOOL, but none have been successful.
“We greatly appreciate the work of Senators Thune and Tester in continuing to push forward solutions to define what constitutes a U.S. beef product,” said Justin Tupper, vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. “From the perspective of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, that label should pertain only to beef that was born, raised, and harvested in the U.S.A. This legislation provides a pathway for achieving clear, accurate labels so that consumers can continue choosing to put high-quality American beef on their plates.”
This legislation would require the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in consultation with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, to develop a WTO-compliant means of reinstating MCOOL for beef within one year of enactment. If USTR fails, MCOOL will automatically be reinstated.
“During the nearly seven years since MCOOL for beef was repealed, U.S. cattle producers experienced lower cattle prices and were deprived the means to build demand for their U.S.-produced cattle,” said Bill Bullard, Chief Executive Officer of R-CALF USA.
MCOOL supporters say the mandatory labeling will increase profits to producers and increase cattle demand. Research by Glynn Tonsor, an Economist at Kansas State University found that the demand, both economically and statistically, for beef and pork was lower when MCOOL was law. Other reports have also shown that customers were unaware of MCOOL, and it did not influence their decision-making. A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-sponsored study reported that over 10 years, it would cost the beef industry over $8 billion to implement MCOOL.
Ethan Lane, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) simply stated that MCOOL was a failure and did not provide producers with any additional profits. “We see something like this in every congress,” Lane said. “It is simply not the solution to the problems we are facing in the supply chain today.” Lane states that NCBA supports voluntary labels with source-verified origin only, indicating MCOOL is outdated. “We are focused on Product of the U.S. labeling and ensuring there is a solid footing for producers to voluntarily put labels on beef that differentiate their product in the marketplace, resulting in making more money in that transaction.”