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Time to Pay the Piper PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Friday, 23 May 2008
AFF Sentinel Vol.5#24

With the successful defeat of attempts to steal rights and freedoms from American livestock producers in the Farm Bill, now comes dealing with the unpleasant aftermath - mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (mCOOL).

Mainstream groups again tried to stave off implementation of a law yielding little but costing hundreds of millions of dollars, ultimately devaluing livestock for producers. Timing is everything. China's difficulties with a small percentage of export items came at a bad time for fighting mCOOL implementation.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT.), chairwoman, House Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA Appropriations Subcommittee, enabled mCOOL implementation as one tool needed to "protect" American consumers. Unfortunately, activists ignore facts: it is USDA- equivalent inspection that delivers food safety, not a country label. Instead, in further excess, legislation has been introduced to force food manufacturers to list every country sourcing any food ingredient in a particular prepared food product.

The best sensible groups could affect was less restrictive language, less demanding recordkeeping and a new grandfather date for imported animals. But as the entire livestock production, processing and retail food production chain expends time, effort and cash to deal with this less-extensive version of the monster, let's not forget some of those responsible: DeLauro and LAG partners like Consumer Federation of America's Carol Tucker Foreman, Public Citizen (PC) and Consumer's Union (CU).

The cost will not appear as an invoice in producers' mailboxes but as packers and retailers spend many millions to comply with mCOOL, rest assured what won't show up in livestock income accounts will be the dollars expended to comply. The radicals claim trickle down economics don't work, that more money in packer's pockets doesn't trickle down to producers. Yet lousy retail movement means packers need fewer cattle and pay less for them. Higher corn prices always mean lower prices for calves. This will be no different.

R-CALF has always claimed mCOOL "won't cost ranchers anything." Ridiculous! Lost income is still lost. When the truth dawns, we'll see how cattlemen regard R-CALF's mostly unjustifiable boast that they made it happen.

Having no experience with the consumer end of the meat business, what the radicals don't understand is that consumers will not pay for anything unless it improves the eating experience or fixes perceived food safety problems. Since mCOOL will not do either and origin was way below taste, tenderness and price on consumers' criteria lists, they will not pay.

But the consumer was really just a pawn in anti- trade farm groups' real agenda with mCOOL - keeping Canadian cattle and beef and Mexican feeder cattle out. But mCOOL will only achieve their goals if they make importing prohibitively expensive or convince American consumers that the beef they have been eating for years - 90-plus percent U.S. -- is unsafe. That's what the LAG tried when Bill Bullard, Foreman, CU's Adam Goldberg and PC's Patty Lovera stood on stage together trying to scare consumers (2004). South Korean consumers might be stampeded by unfounded rumors for political ends but, so far, American consumers haven't.

The new grandfather clause specifies animals in the U.S. by or on July 15, 2008 will not be subject to the new rules. That gives feedyards with Canadian cattle in their pens targets.

Such late notice for a major international upheaval is already too late for the hog industry. Major disruptions have occurred in the pipeline for baby pigs from Canada to American finishing operations. If it were the big oil pipelines from Canada or Mexico, everyone would have heard. But since it's agricultural trade being gored, general media is silent and thousands of pigs are euthanized. Angering two of our top three oil suppliers for no good reason can't be regarded as intelligent policy.

Unless either country blocks implementation through WTO or NAFTA channels - and both countries are unlikely to just ignore this - the deadline is Sept. 30. More likely, with the glacial speed of international trade regulation, any stoppage will only occur after the industry has spent millions to comply.

USDA's Bruce Knight has worked out a way to deal with an impossible timeline by developing regulations simultaneously along two channels - the old 2002 Farm Bill language and the new 2007-8 Farm Bill. He tells us to expect proposed regulations in July.

In our next issue, we'll examine the law's language and give our take on the shake out. The compromise language that was worked out proves interesting ... and maybe surprising.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 July 2008 )
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