News & Politics

Where's the Beef...From?

The $1.5 trillion spending bill recently passed by Congress repeals the regulation that requires meat packers to list the country of origin on beef and pork.

The provision had bi-partisan support because Canada and Mexico were agitating to start slapping tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation for the labeling rule. “The World Trade Organization last week gave Canada and Mexico the authority to impose $1.01 billion in tariffs after ruling earlier this year that the rule discriminated against Canadian and Mexican livestock.”

Past attempts to repeal the regulation, like in the 2013 Farm Bill, had been unsuccessful.

“Our attitude was we were going to use every available mechanism to get a bad idea, and a bad law, repealed,” said Mark Dopp, general counsel for the North American Meat Institute, a group that represents livestock producers and meat packers such as Tyson Foods Inc. “While we couldn’t initiate WTO litigation, we were glad that the Mexican and Canadian governments did.”

But smaller U.S. ranchers and farmers support the labeling rule. “This is a rotten way to do legislation, by attaching these barnacles on the omnibus bills in the dark of the night,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, a Washington, D.C.-based organization.

The fight over meat-labeling started to heat up in the 2000s after concerns of mad cow disease, “prompting consumer groups to argue such labels could help shoppers avoid food from countries with lax safety regulations. But meat packers said the regulations imposed unnecessary burdens and costs by requiring them to track and sort animals throughout their lifetimes.”

“The repeal…is going to affect our markets as more cattle come into the country,” said Ruth Laughery, a rancher in Wyola, Mont. “My husband and I are just trying to make a living off of the American dream of having our own business.”

Mandatory Country of Origin labeling exists for other food products such as peanuts and fish.

Do you think the government should have lifted the labeling laws or should it have kept the laws in place with high tariffs on U.S. goods sold in Mexico and Canada?