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MT Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Country-of-Origin Labeling

Montana ranchers such as Jeanie Alderson, above, say imported meat labeled as a "product of the U.S." is driving down prices. (Northern Plains Resource Council)
Montana ranchers such as Jeanie Alderson, above, say imported meat labeled as a "product of the U.S." is driving down prices. (Northern Plains Resource Council)
February 26, 2019

HELENA, Mont. — A bill in the Montana Legislature aims to let Montanans know where their meat is really coming from. Lawmakers will hold a hearing Tuesday in the House Agriculture Committee for H.B. 594, which would bring country-of-origin labeling back to Treasure State grocery stores.

Imported meat makes up an estimated three-quarters of grass-fed beef sales in the United States. That imported beef can be labeled "product of the U.S.,” even if it's been only slightly altered or processed in the States. Jeanie Alderson is a southeastern Montana rancher and member of the grassroots agriculture group Northern Plains Resource Council.

"We know that in the past when we had country-of-origin-labeling, we did have better prices and customers did know where their food came from,” Alderson said. “And we think that's a kind of simple and fair thing to ask for."

Congress repealed the requirement in 2015. The World Trade Organization ruled it violated the North American Free Trade Agreement in 2011.

H.B. 594 would require grocery stores to place placards on meat counters that let consumers know where their beef and pork comes from. Alderson noted other meats and fish already have these labels.

She said the legislation would help small family ranchers like her who have seen prices drop without country-of-origin labeling. In a world where more folks want to know where their food is sourced, she said consumers also benefit from this type of labeling.

"It's really important for our small communities as well as for consumers,” Alderson said. “We raise great beef, and customers ought to be able to have the chance to buy it."

Alderson said ranchers still are pushing for national country-of-origin labeling legislation, but she believes by passing this bill, Montana could lead the way.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT