Tuesday, December 10, 2013

COOL or Fool

COOL....Country Of Origin Labeling.  In late November the FDA implemented a new rule that states any whole muscle meat item must declare where it originally came from. Simple right? You walk into a market or you are ordering ground beef for your restaurant and you simply say I'd like US grown beef and there it is on the label. WHOA! Hold your horses! ( that's another topic!) This law only applies to "whole" muscle cuts. Any processed meat does not require the labeling. Any ham, bacon, bologna, hot dog, breaded meat, seasoned meat, sausage, etc does NOT require any sort of origin labeling. Ground beef does require a COOL label but if the meat is processed in any way, such as precooked or seasoned, it does not.
 Both Canada and Mexico are fighting this new law because they believe it violates free trade agreements. We've been buying a lot of meat from both of those countries for a long time and most consumers would never know it. In fact we've been buying a lot of meat from other countries. Here is a quote from the USDA web site "U.S. beef imports in 2012 totaled 2.22 billion pounds, or nearly 8 percent higher than in 2011. Imports were stronger year over year from Australia (+45 percent), New Zealand (+8 percent), Mexico (+56 percent), and Uruguay (+39 percent). Australia and Canada supplied the largest imports of beef to the United States, at 655 and 537 million pounds. Among the remaining top beef exporters were New Zealand (495 million pounds), Mexico (242 million pounds), and, jointly, Central American countries (Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras at 140 million pounds)." 2.2 billion lbs.!! And this is just beef, we also are seeing some huge hog farms in Mexico and that country's exports are growing.  This is big business and some large processors stand to lose some market share if the law stands. We also export a lot of meat to those countries.
 But who is losing if this law goes away? Well the law potentially helps cattle growers here in the US; those hard working ranchers that have been hit by a number of tough conditions over the last few years. Droughts in Texas, freak cold snaps and snow like in South Dakota this fall, floods like in eastern Colorado, all part of our meat supply. Large meat processors would rather hedge against our cattle growers by importing 2 - 3% of the meat they process. Many large companies are fighting this law and state that it is unnecessary government regulation. Their statements claim food safety laws in Canada and Mexico are fine and we don't need to worry about meat imports. Here is an article in the online publication Stitata about the use of the Beta-Agonist Clenbuterol found in Mexican meat....... "Consumption of clenbuterol contaminated meat has caused 56 cases of clenbuterol poisoning in the municipality of Tlahuelilpan. The cases were treated promptly and all recovered. In order to prevent a wider contamination, officials seized 72.5 kg of meat. Clenbuterol is a drug that is used to treat asthma. In some formulations, it increases the creation of muscle and is sometimes used to increase the muscle mass of animals such as cattle, pork or sheep. Clenbuterol residue remains in the body for a long time (months) after consumption and can affect lung and heart function." There is a lot of corruption and looking the other way when it comes to regulations in Mexico but this type of abuse of chemicals is a concern globally! The Canadians aren't without scandals as well. Here is an article about E-Coli tainted product headed for the US. http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/10/01/canadians-kept-in-the-dark-for-two-weeks-over-tainted-meat-scandal-liberals/   Even in our own meat supply we find things that need to be addressed so how can we, as a nation, allow meat from other countries without at least giving the public a heads up?
  But this law only regulates a portion of the meat brought into the US. All of the processed , value added meat does not need labeling. So if a giant pork company like Shuanghui, which now owns Smithfield, processes pork into value added hams, they do not require a country of origin labeling. Chinese produced pork could be sold in the US as a Smithfield product. This company was also caught abusing beta-agonists and yet our lawmakers determined that it would hurt our economy if we further regulate. What is to stop multi-national companies from shipping whole carcasses out of the US and processing them overseas and bringing them back as US product, even under the existing law? Nothing!  In reality further regulation would only hurt the bottom line of a foreign company. All of the fast food burgers sold in the US do not require any label about country of origin because the meat is cooked.  Our US processing plants and the workers in them are effected by this and we need to seriously consider COOL for all meat products. The law isn't stopping companies from bringing in the meat...it simply identifies the sources so that chefs and consumers can make their own decisions. Only a fool wouldn't agree with COOL.


  1. As a Canadian with some exposure to the meat industry as well as the beef industry here (I also grew up on a beef farm and owned 15 cow calf pairs as recently as 2001) I would disagree with the finality of your statement. The president of the Canadian Cattleman's Association is my second cousin. I know him well enough to know that he is an honest and straight shooting individual. I also know that he is lobbying for the betterment of his industry. COOL does so much more than label meat that has been slaughtered in Canada. An animal simply born and raised through to weaning in Canada and then exported to the USA, spending 2/3 of its life in the US is going to be labelled as Canadian in the superstore. I see this as a protective measure pushed predominantly by groups such as R-CALF in the Great Plains. Our two great countries have forged trade agreements and in the process have made concessions in some areas and gains in other areas. The beef industry, especially in the west, is heavily integrated between the two nations and dependent on NAFTA to operate equitably for all. As far as the recent E-Coli in the Brooks, Alberta plant...well that was used for great political mileage by the opposition parties in Parliament. While it is a legitimate concern, much of what was said in Parliament (and quoted in the NP article you linked) was said not out of concern for the consumer or the betterment of the cattle industry but rather to make political hay. According to reports I have heard there was no interest at all for the producer down on the farm but rather only in making the current Conservative government look bad. Let me reassure you, the food supply system in Canada is safe. I would like to say that it is safer than that of the United States...but that would be a purely patriotic statement and a detriment to this discussion!

    I enjoy your blog!

    Here's something for perspective http://cafta.org/pages/july-25-2013-cca-president-martin-unrau-on-cool-updatele-president-martin-unrau-de-la-cca-au-sujet-de-letiquetage-du-pays-dorigine-aux-etats-unis-epo/

    1. Thank you for the perspective. I do understand there is a lot of live cattle trading between our two nations and I've seen the lobbying efforts by R-CALF. They have deep pockets indeed. I also believe the American consumer will purchase beef with a Canadian label without much of a thought because they have confidence in that countries processing capabilities etc. Where I think we would see a consumer rejection is if customers realized their ground products came with a label that stated four or five countries' beef was blended together. It may give the buyer an idea of the nature of the processed meat business. All in all I respect your comments and I agree that there is typically a political move behind many decisions.
      Enjoy the holidays!