MRCC and farm groups push back on COOL omissions in Farm Bill draft

COOL ommission from Farm Bill 2024
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The US House of Representatives has issued its draft of the Farm Bill. This draft does not include Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat. Recently, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, in partnership with other family farm groups, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, and the Campaign for Family Farmers and the Environment, held an informative webinar about COOL.

Titled “Truth in Labeling: COOL, the WTO, and the Way Forward,” the webinar covered the history and precedent for requiring that meat on grocery store shelves be labeled with its origin. The webinar also highlighted the need for Congress to pass the “American Beef Labeling Act,” a bipartisan Congressional bill that would require consumers to know if meat is domestic or imported from various countries around the globe.

During the webinar, special guest Charles Benoit, Trade Counsel for the Coalition for a Prosperous America, explained why objections by the unelected, pro-corporate World Trade Organization (WTO) are not a reasonable or valid excuse for not passing the American Beef Labeling Act or including it in this year’s Farm Bill.

The webinar featured MRCC Executive Director and fifth-generation farmer and cattle producer Rhonda Perry, MRCC Communications Director and federal farm policy expert Tim Gibbons, Montana cattle rancher and member of the Western Organization of Research Councils Gilles Stockton, and Charles Benoit, who has argued international trade law before the United States International Trade Commission and the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

It is important to remember the precedent for this. COOL used to be part of the Farm Bill in the early 2000s, and it is no coincidence that cattle prices increased while it was in place. In 2015, Congress caved to pressure from both the WTO and corporate meat lobbyists, repealing COOL and triggering a record drop in cattle prices that have not recovered, continuing to hurt American farmers to this day.

Gilles Stockton discussed the impacts of rescinding mandatory COOL on cattle ranchers, describing the move to rescind COOL as “calculated consumer fraud and theft” enacted by Congress. When asked if consumers cared about COOL and preferred American beef, he responded, “We should take them at their word; poll after poll shows that 90% of them want to know the origin of their beef.”

Charles Benoit shared invaluable insights into the issue from his perspective as an international trade attorney. He said of the impact on farmers and ranchers, “I’ve dealt with many industries, and ranchers have had it the worst. You’ve been arguably the biggest victim in America of this global system.”

The facts back this up. Tim Gibbons referred to the 2022 Ag Census, stating, “The United States lost 150,000 cattle operations in the last five years,” noting that these numbers do not include 2023, which was a significant liquidation year. He added, “Missouri lost 20% of our cattle operations during that same period.”

An important takeaway was one of the simplest answers from Charles Benoit, who emphasized that the previous WTO ruling is “not an acceptable excuse whatsoever” for Congress to not pass COOL. He highlighted that with recent changes to the WTO appellate body, the threat is gone, stating, “the era of retaliation is over.”

Congress should not let a bad decision from a now-defunct international trade panel take away a popular and common-sense labeling program.

As Tim Gibbons said, “It’s an election year; make this an election issue…It’s also a Farm Bill year; make it a Farm Bill issue.”

You can watch the webinar at this link.

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