In letters this week to beef and hog producers, as well as to customers of their products, Tyson Fresh Meats said it plans to change its approach to complying with mandatory country of origin labeling (mCOOL) requirements.

Earlier, Tyson indicated it planned to label all products with the multi-country category B label. “Based on the input we have since received from members of Congress, government officials and various industry groups, we now believe this initial compliance approach will not be viable in the long term,” said Tyson Senior Group Vice President James Lochner. “If we do not take measures to more fully meet the desires of mCOOL advocates and many lawmakers, and label a large percentage of retail, fresh meat cuts as a product of the U.S., it’s likely some of the flexibility included in the current regulations will be eliminated.”

As such, Lochner said Tyson will use the “U.S.” or category A label on all its premium beef programs beginning early 2009. “Our next goal is to label substantially all beef and pork cuts from livestock born, raised and processed in the U.S. with the category A label by the middle of 2009,” he said.

Lochner estimates around 90% of all the fresh, retail beef and pork cuts produced in the U.S. would qualify for the category A label. “However, we expect to continue sourcing livestock that do not qualify for the category A label. Products from these cattle and hogs will be labeled as category B or C in the least cumbersome manner allowed by USDA. This timeframe should provide ample time for affected customers and livestock producers to adjust controls and records to effectively meet the lawmakers’ mCOOL expectations. Ground beef will be excluded from this new program.”

To implement the new approach, Tyson will ask its livestock suppliers to segregate all foreign-born livestock. “If a producer chooses to produce and sell exclusively category A or category B livestock, then we will accept a continuous affidavit,” Lochner said. “If a producer chooses to produce and sell both category A and category B livestock, an affidavit for each load will be required unless the producer raises livestock in multiple locations and can designate specific feeding operations as raising exclusively category A or B livestock,” he said in the letter.

The changes will result in increased costs, he said. “Ultimately, we believe these additional expenses will have to be passed on through higher finished product prices or reduced prices for livestock.”