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Beef Producers Sue USDA to Require Country-of-Origin Labeling

About 20 percent of beef is imported, but country-of-origin labeling isn't required. (Lance Cheung/USDA)
About 20 percent of beef is imported, but country-of-origin labeling isn't required. (Lance Cheung/USDA)
June 26, 2017

BILLINGS, Mont. -- A group of cattle producers wants Americans to know where their beef is coming from - and is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make it happen.

The United Stockgrowers of America's Rancher-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, or R-CALF, and Cattle Producers of Washington are bringing back the issue of Country of Original Labeling, or COOL. The groups say confusion at the grocery store over which beef is and is not produced in the U.S. hurts their industry.

Bill Bullard, CEO of the Billings-based R-CALF, said the 2016 repeal of COOL legislation put the USDA in violation of the Meat Inspection Act for imported beef.

"We are now in a situation where the USDA has unlawfully designated imported product as a domestic product, and not requiring the labels as to the product's country of origin,” Bullard said.

He noted there are safety concerns associated with imported beef, citing one recent case as an example. Last week, the USDA halted imports of Brazilian beef for five meatpackers over health concerns.

Bullard also said surveys have shown that as many as 90 percent of Americans want to know where their beef is coming from.

Around 20 percent of beef sold in the U.S. is imported and marked - along with domestic beef - with a U.S. inspection label. Bullard said that confusion drives down prices, ultimately hurting small farmers and ranchers.

"How are we going to maintain a viable family-farm system of agriculture in the United States if we are allowing the meatpackers to source beef from the cheapest possible country, and then pass it off to unsuspecting consumers using the good names and reputations of U.S. farmers and ranchers?” Bullard asked.

COOL has been an issue of contention in the North American Free Trade Agreement. In 2015, the World Trade Organization found U.S. meat labeling regulations disproportionately burdened meat producers in Canada and Mexico.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT