Billings, Mont. – On Monday, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), for himself and for Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mike Rounds, (R-S.D.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the “American Beef Labeling Act of 2021,” which is now officially numbered as Senate Bill 2716 (S.2716).
Senate Bill 2716 reinstates beef as among the numerous food commodities currently subject to the United States mandatory country-of-origin labeling (M-COOL) law that was originally passed by Congress in the 2002 Farm Bill.
The reinstatement of beef into the existing M-COOL law will occur no later than one-year after S.2716 is enacted. In the event the U.S. Trade Ambassador and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture develop a means of implementing S.2716 in a manner compliant with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, the bill authorizes the two presidential cabinet members to implement the measure any time after the bill’s enactment, but no later than its one-year anniversary date.
Both beef and pork were included in the original M-COOL law passed in the 2002 Farm Bill, but Congress later removed both beef and pork from the law in 2015. Senate Bill 2716 will effectively reverse the 2015 congressional action as it relates to beef.
Today, during a press conference hosted by the bipartisan bill’s cosponsor, Senator Jon Tester, R-CALF USA’s Director of Operations, Candace Bullard, said one of the reasons America has lost hundreds of thousands of cattle ranchers over the past few decades is because “the four largest meatpackers that purchase cattle for beef are outsourcing cattle and beef from foreign countries, and they don’t let the final purchaser know where its coming from.”
Bullard continued, “I’m honored to stand here today next to Senator Tester as he introduces his and Senators Thune, Rounds and Booker’s “American Beef Labeling Act” that will restore Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for beef and requires all beef sold at the grocery store to be labeled as to where it was born, raised and harvested.
“We, as a nation, depend on our cattle ranchers – we all witnessed the empty meat cases at the start of the pandemic. Together, we have the power to change the course of our cattle industry: for U.S. cattle producers to earn a better living, for job creation and economic development, and for the protection of our nation’s food security.”
Bullard concluded her remarks by saying, “Senator Tester’s bill will give consumers the information they need to help save Montana’s and America’s ranchers.”
The 2002 M-COOL law passed in the 2002 Farm Bill and amended by the 2008 Farm Bill required country-of-origin labels on beef, lamb, pork, goat meat, chicken, fruits and vegetables, fish and shellfish, peanuts, ginseng, pecans, and macadamia nuts.
After M-COOL’s 2002 passage, the meatpacking lobby successfully delayed the implantation of M-COOL for beef and other meats for seven years, and when it later took effect in early 2009, the implementing regulations allowed beef packers to affix a label on beef products suggesting that beef originated from three countries, such as “Product of Canada, Mexico, and USA.”
The 2009 implementation of M-COOL for both beef and pork triggered a World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint by Canada and Mexico, with both alleging that M-COOL treated their imported livestock less favorably than domestic livestock.
Then, in early 2013 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) attempted to address the WTO’s finding that, among other things, the multi-country label allowed by the 2009 implementing regulations diminished M-COOL’s stated purpose of accurately informing consumers as to where their meat originated. The USDA promulgated new regulations that required beef to be labeled according to where each of its three production steps took place: where the animal was born, where it was raised, and where it was harvested. This produced labels such as “Born in Mexico, Raised and Harvested in the USA,” and “Born, Raised, and Harvested in the USA.”
But these more accurate labels did not satisfy the WTO and it ultimately ruled that M-COOL discriminated against imports of livestock from Canada and Mexico. Based on the WTO’s ruling, and without pursuing any further diplomatic measures to attempt to assuage Canada and Mexico’s concern, Congress simply repealed M-COOL for beef and pork in 2015.