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COOL Makes its Debut – MT Ranchers Cheer, But Point Out Flaws

October 2, 2008

Helena, MT – "Mystery meat" may soon be less common and less mysterious in Montana, as country-of-origin labeling, known as COOL, becomes law in the U.S. this month after years of delays. It requires labels on meat that tell Montana consumers where it is produced.

Montana rancher Dan Teigen, with the Northern Plains Resource Council, says his group is glad the law is finally official, but he warns of loopholes that he says need to be closed, including tightening the definition of processed meat. Meats that are marinated or treated with a salt solution – which Teigen says is common – will slip through the labeling law.

"Between ground meat, and steaks and chops, there's still a lot of food that should be covered by this."

If a majority of meat on store shelves isn't labeled because of the exceptions, adds Teigen, then the law will need some tweaking to fulfill the original intent of providing consumers with information they need for making choices.

"We need to watch, encourage the improvements, and guard against the flaws. This will more than likely be an on-going process."

Products known as muscle meats can also avoid complying with the labeling law, meaning some steaks and roasts will lack consumer information. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defends the exceptions as a way to control costs for meat processing companies, who have warned that labeling will raise prices for consumers. The COOL law applies to fresh fruits and vegetables and many other food products as well as to meat.

The Northern Plains Resource Council has sent comments to USDA requesting stricter definitions.

Deborah Smith/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - MT