On October 30, the American Legislative Exchange Council included a draft resolution calling for elimination of country-of-origin labeling (COOL) in a packet of new resolutions and model bills that the corporation bill factory will consider at its 2013 States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington DC, December 4-6, 2013.
The resolution (excerpted below) will be taken up for consideration by ALEC's International Task Force on December 5, according to a tentative agenda included in the packet.
A reading of news reports and analysis suggest that ALEC members in the private sector are advancing the anti-COOL resolution.
COOL faces uncertain fate in Farm Bill conference committee
According to a report by Reuters' Charles Abbott, U.S. meat-labeling law, a WTO issue, now farm bill target:
Members of a select House-Senate panel on Wednesday targeted for potential repeal a U.S. meat-labeling law that Mexico and Canada have challenged as a violation of world trade rules, and that U.S. meatpackers also oppose.
The country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law requires labels on packages of beef, pork, poultry and lamb sold in U.S. stores to carry specific information on the source of the meat. The U.S. terms it a "consumer information" program. [BSP Editor's note: COOL covers more than just meat, but fruits, vegetables and fish as well].
While favored by consumer groups, COOL has been a lightning rod for dispute for more than a decade. Congress approved meat-origin labeling in 2002, but it did not become mandatory until 2009. . . .
Defenders such as the National Farmers Union and the Consumer Federation of America say COOL help shoppers make informed decisions on their meat purchases. They said there is no need for Congress to intervene. . . .
Read the entire piece at Reuters. For an informed analysis of the develop, check out Ben Lilliston's column at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's (IATP) Think Forward blog post Who’s afraid of COOL?:
To truly see the power of agribusiness, and its growing disconnect from regular people and farmers, look no further than the current dust-up over Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Polls say more than 90 percent of consumers want simple labeling indicating what country the meat they are buying comes from. Farm groups like the National Farmers Union and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association support it because of the marketing advantage it gives to U.S. produced meat and livestock producers. Yet, agribusiness has repeatedly flexed its lobbying muscles to block COOL and now they are at it again as Congress negotiates a new Farm Bill. Why do companies like Cargill, JBS and Tyson care so much about COOL? Remarkably, these enormously profitable global corporations are frightened that if consumers better understood their business model—which pays no attention to what country animals come from—they might have to make some changes.
On October 29, big meat (Cargill, Smithfield, Tyson, JBS, among others) sent a letter (subscription required) to the House and Senate Agriculture Chairs demanding that the Farm Bill “reform” COOL. Soon thereafter, House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucus (R-OK) parroted big meat’s arguments in announcing he wants to repeal COOL to avoid retaliation from trade partners.
Lilliston points out that not every actor in the food industry is blocking more information for consumers--others are responding to the market created by growing consumer interest in the sources of their food:
. . . COOL is just one manifestation of a larger battleground for greater food transparency as consumers struggle to have some say in a food system controlled by fewer and fewer corporations. Any step toward greater transparency is being fought tooth and nail by agribusiness; see the tens of millions of dollars companies spent to defeat labeling of genetically engineered foods in Washington State and California.
Of course, not all in the food industry are blocking more information for consumers. More and more voluntary labels are on the supermarket shelves, from “free range” to “raised without antibiotics” to “fair trade.” Food co-ops and Whole Foods are driving many of these changes, as the market grows for consumers who want to know not only where their food came from, but how it was produced. Many farmers targeting local markets are embracing greater transparency, and even larger-scale farmers are recognizing the price premiums offered by the rapidly rising non-GMO market. . . .
Check out the column here.
ALEC membership and Big Ag
Of the companies Lilleston mentions, only Cargill is listed as an ALEC member by the watchdog ALECExposed; Cargill denies having ever been a member. However, groups which COOL Opponents Formally Appeal[ed] Court's Injunction Denial of judicial relief from COOL included ALEC member, the National Pork Producers Council.
Are other trade groups and corporations opposed to COOL ALEC members? Bluestem has requested more information about this issue from the folks at the Center for Media and Democracy. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, in the North Star state, the Minnesota Farmers Union* is likely to pass a special order urging passage of a Farm Bill; among other things, the draft special order language puts the MFU on record "opposing unnecessary legislative changes to the Country-of-Origin Labeling law" in the Farm Bill.
Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressmen Collin Peterson and Tim Walz serve on the Farm Bill Conference Committee.
*Disclosure: Bluestem Prairie's owner and editor is a member of the Minnesota Farmers Union and serves on its policy committee.
Image: What's fishy about country-of-origin labeling? Rules for labeling produce, meat and fish. Image via Catfish Lovers.
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