As the lawsuit filed by AMI and eight other meat and livestock organizations against the May 2013 Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule continues, we have received one question several times: Why does AMI care so much about these labels to sue to oppose them?
It is notable that the lawsuit challenging the COOL regulation was brought by a coalition of groups across the meat sector. Not only is AMI a plaintiff, but so are the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council, the two largest associations representing cattle and hog producers. Concerns about the adverse impact COOL will have are shared throughout the industry for several reasons, most notably cost to the industry and to consumers. Although the plaintiffs contend the costs are higher than the USDA Agricultural Marking Service’s (AMS) estimate, even the government acknowledges that COOL will cost the industry tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of dollars, costs that ultimately will likely be borne primarily by consumers and livestock producers.
In fact, we invite you to read the numerous declarations submitted in the lawsuit explaining how livestock producers and small companies will be adversely affected by the rule. The costs will be imposed in large part because the new rule requires segregating and tracking not only the animals according to the countries where production steps occurred, but also the meat derived from those animals all the way through the supply chain. These are requirements not previously imposed. Thus, for example, if an animal is born in Canada and brought across the border as a feeder animal to be raised in the U.S., it must be tracked throughout its life and during processing even though it is ultimately slaughtered and processed in the same manner and under the same food safety regulations in the same USDA inspected facility as an animal that spent its whole life in the U.S.
We respect that some people have a desire to know where their food comes from, just as we respect that some consumers desire to purchase organic products or know that animals from which the meat is derived were not administered specific drugs. But such programs are voluntary and exist because people have expressed demand for those and other products. COOL, on the other hand, is a government mandate with no food safety considerations. Judging by the response and unbiased research we’ve seen on the issue, the labels mandated by COOL are not widely desired by consumers. Indeed, the new COOL rule may only add to confusion about meat and poultry products.