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By Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Cattlemans corner Austin Snedden
Austin Snedden

It seems absurd that we are still talking about this, but lobbying power has still thwarted what consumers and producers want. In 2015 Congress repealed mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef. Like all unpopular congressional actions, it was repealed as part of an omnibus bill to avoid scrutiny. As a result, U.S. cattle producers have yet to see demand and prices match those of 2014. As we approach a period that may involve contraction in our entire economy, we are more critical than ever to have origin labels on our beef so that consumers can decide where they want their dollars to go. 

How did we get to this point where the loudest voice speaking on behalf of cattle producers actively opposes MCOOL? The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is the loudest trade group in the cattle industry. Despite having less than 5% of cattle producers as members, the NCBA’s voice is amplified through the mandatory union dues that all producers are forced to pay through the Beef Checkoff. The NCBA speaks boldly on behalf of corporate packers, but because of the occasional cowboy hat and shiny boots, congress thinks they are speaking on behalf of cattle producers. Although only a tiny percentage of total producers, NCBA had to convince their members to oppose this America first policy. It was sold to members that labeling beef for our consumers would result in decreased exports due to retaliation. Multinational importers and packers even ginned up a WTO complaint on behalf of Canada and Mexico, claiming that properly labeling the origin of beef was an unfair trade practice. The export market has been successfully touted to producers as the holy grail of our industry, ignoring the fact that export premiums have a hard time finding their way back to producers and ignoring the fact that giving up a small sliver of our domestic market outweighs the gains of our entire export market. Packers lobby NCBA and NCBA lobby congress with producer dollars.

Elimination of MCOOL was damaging enough, but to add salt to the wounds of domestic cattle producers, current USDA rules allow imported beef to be labeled “Product of USA”. The motives of why a small contingent of corporate interests would oppose MCOOL and support current labeling practices is clear and understandable; import cheaper inferior beef and imply if not outright misrepresent it as a U.S. product. U.S. cattle producers have built a brand for quality and safety in our product; multinational interests are usurping that brand. 

Here is where we sit; most consumers want country of origin labels. Consumers want to know more and more about where their food comes from. A majority of domestic cattle producers are in favor of MCOOL. In regards to WTO meddling in our domestic affairs, they can be tamped down, just as they have with every other product and industry that has had the spine to stand up and label their product. Keep in mind that MCOOL is not a tariff, quota, or trade ban but just an accurate label. From all other foods to all your gadgets to all kids’ toys, MCOOL has a precedent; we need advocates with the fortitude to get it done. Not only does MCOOL promote consumer confidence and accurately represent domestic producers, but recent pandemic supply chain issues have shown us the importance of domestic production. You don’t have to be a cattle producer to have a stake in this; every beef consumer has an interest. It may be time again for us to call our members of Congress.

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