The delay measure is included in the omnibus bill that the Senate is expected to vote on this week. Meanwhile, the House isn't expected to vote on the same omnibus appropriations bill until early December.
Washington insiders say opposition by the largest national associations for pork, beef and vegetables, coupled with adamant opposition from the retail, processing and packing industries, made COOL a very difficult proposition. And, it became nearly impossibility after the release of a non-partisan economic analysis provided by USDA and the conclusions reached by the Office of Management and Budget.
In addition, the National Summit on COOL (reported in last week's issue of BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly) did not provide the political ammunition it had hoped to produce. Instead, the summit called by R-CALF highlighted the deep divisions that exist even among cattle producers.
At the same time, the sense of the Senate vote and the narrow vote in the House gave politicians the political cover they needed depending on the leanings of their constituents. By including the delay measure in the $390-billion spending bill, the debate is essentially over in the short term, as these bills tend to be take-it-or-leave-it propositions.
While many are calling this a crushing defeat for the proponents of mandatory COOL, it's also becoming clear that the real debate wasn't over the schedule of implementation but whether to delay or repeal the law. In that sense, both sides can claim a victory of sorts.
The consensus seems to be that the delay puts COOL back on the table. There seems to be almost universal agreement that animal identification (ID) is on its way, and the COOL delay avoids the very real possibility that the industry would have spent billions building a system for COOL only to replace it with another form of national ID in very short order.
The delay should put the two systems on a similar time frame, and a national ID system will dramatically alter the debate over COOL. As a result of the delay, the cost and difficulty of implementation will largely be removed. So will the argument or need for a mandatory program over a voluntary one.
Admittedly, the financial burden will be even larger for a mandatory individual ID program, but the government is also expected to help shoulder the burden of implementing such a system.
Eric Davis, a Bruneau, ID, producer and president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, lauded the COOL delay. He said that under mandatory COOL, less than 5% of beef sold would have carried something other than a U.S. label. That's because the majority of imported beef imported is sold through foodservice, which is exempt from the COOL law.
He says NCBA membership has called for a voluntary, producer-driven program that will maximize the benefits to producers by including all marketing channels and forms of beef -- retail, foodservice, processed, fresh and frozen. NCBA is reaching out to key retailers and foodservice groups to participate in an alternative labeling program that will be industry-driven and inclusive.