Country of Origin Labels, beef prices, and ongoing struggles for American ranchers

Agriculture

Country of Origin Labels, or COOL, were originally instated for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons include full transparency for consumers, and in the event of a disease outbreak the problem could be traced back to where the disease began.

However, many farmers and ranchers say they are not satisfied with the current status of COOL.

In the video below, Corey Owens, Senior Instructor of Animal Science for Angelo State University, explains COOL and MCOOL.

*Warning: The videos feature footage of meat being processed. Some may find this graphic.

“The issue at hand today is, since about 2016 until today, COOL is kind of in place but it’s kind of not. So, it hasn’t really been enforced. There’s a loophole in that Country of Origin Labeling that a product can come here to the United States and simply be repackaged, they could do something to it here and it could then be labeled ‘Product of the U.S.A.’” Corey Owens, Senior Instructor of Animal Science for Angelo State University said.

Some producers are calling for Mandatory Country of Origin Labels, or MCOOL.

R-Calfusa.com is dedicated to sharing the perspective from ranchers and also has a petition anyone can sign to “Demand USA Beef.”

However, the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, or TSCRA, is against MCOOL stating that mandatory labeling was done in the past and did not work in favor of ranchers.

Robert E. McKnight, president of the TSCRA, wrote an editorial on the issue.

In part, it reads:

“Even though it sounds good, the data and research show a different reality. Mandatory COOL does not provide a benefit and is, in fact, harmful to you as a cattle producer.

A study was commissioned by USDA and completed by independent researchers at the University of Kansas. In announcing the results, the researchers, “found no evidence of meat demand increases for MCOOL covered products — those products sold at retail locations such as supermarkets. Because general meat demand has not increased, and the meat industry, as a whole, has experienced lower quantities and higher costs to implement the additional labeling procedures, MCOOL has led to net economic losses.

The study used real-world data since MCOOL was the law for six years. That data showed an intrusive and unwieldy government program wasn’t the answer.

By the way, the key word in this discussion is mandatory. We strongly support voluntary labeling programs. There are numerous options for producers who want to connect with consumers who value local or U.S. beef. Those programs rely on American marketing expertise instead of government bureaucracies and tend to be more successful at driving demand.”

You can read the full editorial here.

When it comes to supply and demand, there appears to be another issue that ranchers are facing. That is the fight for fair pricing.

On May 7, 2020, Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller posted this statement on his Facebook page:

“Today, I have asked United States Attorney General William Barr to examine the potential of beef industry price fixing involving meat packers in the United State and to investigate beef pricing processes in the U.S. beef industry with a goal of protecting Texas farmers and ranchers and consumers. Texas farmers and ranchers, our nation’s largest beef producers, are facing financial devastation due to low live beef prices when retail prices of beef are at an all-time high. Something is wrong, the numbers just don’t add up and it has nothing to do with the COVID-19 virus. I want to get to the bottom of it.”

You can read the full letter from Commissioner Sid Miller to Attorney General William Barr here.

“There’s only about four meat processors left in the world, so they have a monopoly on that,” Owens said.

According to Owens, these large-scale processors often buy the cheapest products to keep their costs down which means, many of their products do not originate from the United States and American farmers and ranchers are feeling the loss.

With the recent pandemic, layoffs, and transportation issues, a backlog was created between the processing plants and the animals that are ready for harvest.

“We don’t have a supply issue. We have an issue with getting the product from point A, to getting it processed, to getting it into retail stores,” Owen said.

In the video below, Owens explains in detail how the supply chain works.

Owens says that there is no change in animals that are ready to be transported to the processing plants, it’s the plants that are having the problem processing the same number of animals.

Some universities have benefited from this issue, however. Producers are donating more of their animals to the universities who have processing capabilities, like Angelo State University.

Owens says that if you want to help ranchers, buy directly from them and have that animal processed at a smaller plant. There are several processing plants across the Concho Valley and West Texas.

If consumers would like to get involved when it comes to demanding Mandatory Country of Origin Labels, Owens says pick up the phone or put it in writing.  

“You need to write your local legislators and request that COOL be modified, be enforced,” Owens said.

Find a list of Texas legislators here.



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