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MT Ranchers Push for Country-of-Origin Labeling in New Trade Deal

Beef producers say foreign meat products only nominally processed in the U.S. are allowed to include labels stating they were made here. (Stephen Ausmus/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
Beef producers say foreign meat products only nominally processed in the U.S. are allowed to include labels stating they were made here. (Stephen Ausmus/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
December 21, 2018

HELENA, Mont. – Montana ranchers and cattle producers are urging Congress to include country-of-origin labeling on beef and pork products in the United States' newly revised trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

Ranchers and cattle producers have been frustrated since Congress repealed country-of-origin labeling or COOL in 2015, to avoid retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico. Since its repeal, processors have been able to add "product of the U.S." labeling to their meat, even if it's been only slightly altered or processed in the States.

Jeanie Alderson, a southeastern Montana rancher and member of the grassroots agriculture group Northern Plains Resource Council, says that's flooded the market with foreign meat products.

"I don't think consumers are getting a fair deal,” says Alderson. “They're paying really high prices and they think that what they're getting is a product of the U.S.A. And for us as ranchers, we want to be able to sell our beef on a fair and open and honest market."

Alderson says the lack of COOL regulations is driving down prices for ranchers and producers. She says more shoppers want to know where their meat comes from, but opponents say it's too costly for producers.

In 2011, the World Trade Organization ruled that COOL violated the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In November, President Donald Trump and the leaders of Canada and Mexico signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – the replacement NAFTA deal. Congress likely will take it up in the new year.

Alderson says that gives ranchers and cattle producers an opportunity to push for COOL.

"We have this little window of time while we do negotiate NAFTA to restore country-of-origin labeling,” says Alderson. “I think that's certainly where we're putting some energy and some time."

Public support has been strong for COOL. The Consumer Federation of America found 90 percent of Americans favored requiring country-of-origin labeling in a 2013 survey.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT