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Ranchers, Farmers Lose COOL in New Trade Deal

A loophole allows foreign importers to label beef minimally processed in the country as "Product of the U.S." (lado2016/Adobe Stock)
A loophole allows foreign importers to label beef minimally processed in the country as "Product of the U.S." (lado2016/Adobe Stock)
January 9, 2020

PETTIBONE, N.D. -- As Congress nears approval of a deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, some farmers and ranchers are disappointed in the lack of country-of-origin labeling, or COOL, in the bill.

Supporters say a loophole allows foreign importers to put "Product of the U.S." on their beef, even if it is minimally processed in the country, hurting domestic cattle ranchers.

Shelly Ziesch, a cattle ranch owner in Pettibone, N.D., says under the current law, packers can do something as simple as adding salt or grinding the beef within the United States to qualify as a U.S. product.

"It's something we've been fighting for -- the 'Product of the U.S.' label -- and now they're kind of making a mockery of it because they can put whatever they want in it, and we believe that 'Product of the U.S.' should be only products that are born, raised and harvested in the United States," she states.

Opponents of such labeling say it's too costly for packers.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is expected to pass Congress as early as this week.

Organizations, including the North Dakota Farmers Union and United States Cattlemen's Association say not including COOL in the agreement is a missed opportunity.

Ziesch says labeling as it stands now benefits large foreign companies. She notes that four corporations control 85% of packing in the country, and two of those are international companies.

Ziesch says it's pushing domestic ranchers out of business.

"We should be able to make a living doing it without having to worry about deceptive labeling practices being done with foreign countries," she states.

While the USMCA may have been the best vehicle for passing COOL, Ziesch says the issue is too important not to continue fighting for it.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND