AMI Misleads Congress, Consumers on COOL
In a recent letter to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., from the American Meat Institute (AMI), AMI makes several decisively false claims about country-of-origin labeling, a law established in the 2002 Farm Bill that has yet to be implemented because of political pressure by multinational packers, processors and retailers. R-CALF USA, in turn, sent a letter to DeLauro and Kohl to counter AMI’s false claims.
The AMI letter asks, “If mandatory country-of-origin labeling were truly a food safety issue, should not all food products be covered through commerce?”
“The answer is ‘yes’, but for more than food safety reasons,” said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry. “COOL provides consumers with basic information about where their food is produced, and consumers deserve this information to use as they see fit.”
AMI’s letter also states that “to assert that any country-of-origin labeling regime would have an impact on food safety or the integrity of a food product is absurd,” – a decisively false claim.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) itself has recently imposed COOL requirements on certain countries, such as Uruguay,” Thornsberry pointed out. “Fresh, chilled or frozen beef coming to the U.S. from Uruguay must be certified as originating only from cattle that are born, raised and slaughtered in Uruguay – the very same standards adopted by the COOL law for food products eligible to bear the USA label.
"There you go – straight from USDA – food safety and COOL do go hand-in-hand as a practiced and proven means of ensuring food safety and food product integrity,” he continued. “USDA implemented this origin-based food safety standard for Uruguay because of concerns related to foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Only with origin information can verification be made that the final food product underwent the food production practices of a particular country’s food production regime.”
R-CALF USA’s letter also states: “The recent melamine contamination problem further demonstrates that food production practices within a particular country impact food safety and food product integrity.”
AMI also claims there are 34 countries eligible to ship meat to the U.S., and that each of those countries’ food safety inspection systems must be USDA-certified to be considered equivalent to the federal food safety inspection system in the United States.
“While this claim is accurate in terms of what the current law requires, it has been proven decisively false in practice,” Thornsberry noted. “A December 2005 report by USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) revealed that Canadian plants were allowed to circumvent U.S. equivalency requirements for nearly two years – a perfect example of how COOL would afford consumers an additional level of protection against breaches in foreign food safety inspection systems.”
Additionally, AMI claims that COOL supporters “have, for too long, been mischaracterizing the mandatory labeling requirements that currently exist in this country…FSIS has had, for many years, mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for red meat that enters the U.S.”
This claim also is accurate in terms of what the law requires, but it, too, has been proven decisively false in practice. An August 2003 General Accounting Office revealed the COOL information was not being maintained on imported meat as required by the Tariff Act of 1930, which requires imported products to maintain its import identity through to the ultimate purchaser.
“Again, you see the disparity between what current laws require and what actually is being practiced,” Thornsberry said. “The key here is that the 2002 COOL law remedies these problems whereby country-of-origin labels are not being properly passed on to consumers by packers, processors and retailers. The 2002 COOL law expressly requires that ‘a retailer of a covered commodity shall inform consumers, at the final point of sale of the covered commodity to consumers, of the country of origin of the covered commodity.’”
AMI also claims that the 2002 COOL law is noncompliant with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – again, a decisively false – and baseless – claim.
“In fact, AMI itself discredits this claim by stating that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has had, for many years, mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for red meat that enters the U.S.,” Thornsberry asserted. “The 2002 COOL law merely preserves this label for the benefit of consumers after imported product enters the U.S., and it requires that domestic products be similarly labeled.”
Note: A copy of R-CALF USA’s letter to DeLauro and Kohl, as well as AMI’s letter to the pair, are available under the “Country-of-Origin Labeling” link at www.r-calfusa.com, or by contacting R-CALF USA Communications Coordinator Shae Dodson at the phone number or e-mail address above.