September 30 marks the beginning of USDA's COOL legislation in grocery stores.
I was reading the big headlines of the day, and an article in the Chicago Tribune title, “New Law Requires Labels on Meat” immediately caught my eye. The article definitely favors Country of Origin Labeling; however, it also notes the economic impact COOL will have on the agriculture industry, costing $2.5 million in its first year.
Starting Sept. 30, food manufacturers and grocery stores have to comply with a new federal law that requires "Country of Origin Labeling," or COOL, on beef, pork, chicken and lamb.
The article continues saying COOL will enable consumers to avoid food that, for example, comes from countries that they have heard have food safety problems. It also will allow consumers to stick to American-grown food, if that is their preference.
Because of the complexities of the livestock industry, some product labels may list multiple countries. That's especially true of ground beef, because some meat processors combine cuts from a number of countries to make ground meat and hamburger patties.
We don't know exactly how it's all going to work," said Colin Woodall, the executive director of legislative affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "And we won't know until it's fully up and running."
Getting COOL enacted has been a complicated six-year effort. Congress first passed COOL in 2002, but the bill ran into heavy political resistance from food companies and the government itself. USDA and even Congress sided with food manufacturers who said the law would be too costly to enact, and COOL was delayed.
Another controversy involves imported livestock. Under COOL, meat derived from cattle imported into the U.S. for immediate slaughter can bear a label that states it's a product of its origin country and the United States, even though the animal was raised entirely outside the U.S.
Some fear that some meatpackers who slaughter both imported and domestic cattle won't bother with specific labels, and instead will apply the same label to both.
Other problems involve verifying the origins of thousands of cattle slaughtered each day to feed the U.S. meat market. Woodall's group is just one of a number of industry associations that joined to draft an affidavit that will make it easier for ranchers to show where their cattle came from—information that will be vital for COOL down the production line.
USDA hopes to draft a final version of the COOL regulations before the Bush administration's term is up in January. The department will be in an "education and outreach" phase for the next six months, taking into account the problems retailers and food companies experience with the new labeling requirements, says USDA's Lloyd Day.
Whether you are for or against COOL, the agriculture industry needs to brace itself. Ready or not, on September 30, consumers will be able to head to the grocery store and see exactly where their meat comes from. What do you think? How will consumers respond? In turn, how should our industry respond to their outcries? Without a doubt, the price of meat will continue to climb. Will COOL largely impact beef sales? You tell me.