House Ag Chairman forces compromise on COOL

COOL Rule Changes May Be Written Into Law

Just before the House Agriculture Committee finished marking up the 2007 farm bill on July 19, Agriculture Chairman Peterson called his committee into executive session to say that the meat industry had agreed to resolve one of the longest-running disputes in American agriculture: implementation of the 2002 law requiring country-of-origin labeling for red meat (COOL) at the final point of retail sale.

Ranch and farm groups promoted labeling, but meat processors, retailers and the Canadian government bitterly opposed it. Under GOP control of Congress, Republicans repeatedly delayed implementation through the appropriations process. Under Democratic control, Peterson and Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairmwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said labeling is so popular among members and the public they would not stand in the way of implementation.

Peterson and DeLauro said the implementation plan the USDA administration had proposed was designed to be burdensome, and they would consider writing changes into law if the industry could come to agreement. The big problem was that the R-CALF, the rancher group that backed the proposal in 2002, and the American Meat Institute, which represents most of the major packers, were at such odds they could not compromise. Peterson told National Farmers Union President Tom Buis and Randy Russell, a prominent lobbyist hired by the meat industry, to come up with a plan.

Peterson told reporters that only Buis and Russell were in the room for the final negotiations that produced a compromise that will be added to the 2007 farm bill. Buis and Russell agreed that many of the regulations and penalties should be dropped or softened to ease the fears of packers and retailers, while the basic labeling scheme goes forward.

As of Sept. 30, 2008, beef, pork, lamb and goat from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States will be labeled “Product of the U.S.” Meat from animals born in another country and raised and/or slaughtered in the United States will be labeled, “A Product of that country and the United States”. And a third label for ground meat that comes from a variety of countries will be labeled “may contain meat from” the list of countries from which is was imported.

Members of the Agriculture Committee voted unanimously to add the provision to the farm bill and instruct the committee staff to write the legal language incorporating the deal.

House Ag Chairman Peterson said the battles over country-of-origin labeling are not over because the 2002 farm bill also requires country-of-origin labeling for fresh fruits and vegetables. That industry is also divided. Peterson told reporters today he has summoned leaders of the fruit and vegetable industry to reach a compromise or face implementation of the similarly burdenson rules as the USDA administration has written for them.