Today NFU joined a diverse coalition of 228 other organizations in delivering a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging him to protect the integrity of Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat products. Today’s letter demonstrates the broad-based support for sensible COOL rules.
Organizations signing the letter spanned 45 states and many different sectors, from agriculture (such as the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition), to the faith community (such as the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference), to consumer advocacy (such as the Consumer Federation of America and National Consumers League), to the environment (such as the National Wildlife Federation and Food and Water Watch).
These stakeholders are united in their desire to see these common-sense labeling provisions strengthened in the face of a recent World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling. The ruling required the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to simplify and clarify COOL to ensure consumers are getting accurate information that is not misleading. In response, USDA has issued new proposed new rules that will require labels to specify which production step occurs in which country – as in, in which specific country the animal that produced the package of meat in your grocery store was born, raised and slaughtered.
Although COOL is already a law, labels currently provide confusing or vague country-of-origin information to consumers, particularly when it comes to the comingling of meat from different countries or meat from animals of mixed origin. A loophole in the law allows some meat derived from exclusively from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States to be labeled as meat from animals of mixed origin, undermining American farmers’ ability to market their products and undermining consumers’ ability to make educated purchasing decisions. The USDA’s proposed rule would largely eliminate these problems while complying with the WTO’s requirements.
The letter was submitted to the USDA as part of the regulatory comment period, in addition to being sent to Secretary Vilsack. The federal comment period closes on April 11, 2013, and the WTO ruling directed USDA to offer new COOL rules by May 23, 2013.