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Country-of-origin label fight rages on

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

The cattle industry continues to fight against a country-of-origin labeling requirement retained in the new farm bill that livestock leaders consider harmful to agriculture.

Scott George, a Cody, Wyo., livestock producer and immediate past president of NCBA, said many livestock industry leaders opposed the new farm bill based on something it failed to accomplish — repealing country-of-origin labeling requirements enacted in the 2008 farm bill.

The original rule, which required only that labels indicate a country of origin, was lifted after the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Mexico and Canada that it violated trade agreements. In May 2013, the U.S. imposed a new label specifying where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered, and prohibiting commingling with U.S. beef. A ruling on the new label is expected from WTO in the spring, but George anticipates it won’t be deemed sufficient and will lead to new trade restrictions from Mexico and Canada on beef and other U.S. commodities. George said MCOOL labels were a factor in the recent announcement that a Brawley, Calif., packing plant will close.

Tyson Foods responded to the added cost of segregating Canadian cattle from throughout its supply chain by temporarily suspending the purchase of Canadian beef cattle last fall, including at its Pasco, Wash., packing plant.

“We’ve since developed a system that allows us to segregate products at two of our plants,” said Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman. “This has allowed us to begin purchasing limited amounts of cattle from Canada again.”

Officials with the American Meat Institute said they’re pleased by a recent turn of events regarding their organization’s legal challenge to the label.

On March 28, a panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied AMI’s request to suspend the requirement, pending a WTO decision. On April 4, however, that ruling was vacated, and the full circuit court is now scheduled to hear the case in May.



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