Livestock industry has beef with country-of-origin labels


WASHINGTON — New requirements on country-of-origin labeling are imposing a high cost on the livestock industry and should be revised, according to Tyson Foods Senior Vice President Shane Miller.

“It’s bad for consumers, bad for our business and bad for family farmers in general,” Miller told a congressional panel on Wednesday.

The House Agriculture subcommittee on livestock, rural development and credit held a hearing Wednesday examining economic and regulatory burdens facing the livestock industry.

Miller and other representatives of the livestock industry pointed to mandatory country-of-labeling as a substantial burden.

Grocery stores have been required to include information on country-of-origin on labels for beef, pork, chicken and other fresh meat since 2009. Recent changes to the program have removed some flexibility that beef processors had to commingle cattle sourced from Canada and Mexico. The new regulation means that cattle have to be kept segregated at the processing plants, at an added cost, Miller testified.

Worse yet, Miller said, the change does nothing to address unfair trade challenges that could result in billions in retaliatory tariffs being imposed by Canada and Mexico, he said.

Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, who chairs the panel, said that he favors repealing the regulation, known as MCOOL. While it is expensive for the industry, he said, there is little consumer demand for the information.

“The easiest thing would be just to repeal it. But, barring that there are some modifications that could be made,” Crawford said after the hearing.

Crawford said a commonsense change would be to require “continent-of-origin” labeling, so that beef from Canada, Mexico and the United States would not have to be segregated.

A Kansas State University study in 2012 found most consumers do not pay attention to country-of-origin labels for beef, pork or chicken and that consumers see little difference between “Product of United States” and “Product of North America.”

Crawford does not expect Congress will take steps to repeal or revise the labeling regulation until after the World Trade Organization rules this summer on the complaints filed by Mexico and Canada.

“If the WTO rules against us, that would increase momentum for repeal,” Crawford said.

Among other issues raised at the hearing was the impact that drought and disease has had on the livestock industry as well as the impact that federal biofuel mandates have had on raising feed prices.