Beef industry experts are calling for “cool heads” in Washington while reminding consumers of the many benefits beef makes to meet the dietary needs of Americans, and the beef industry's importance to U.S. Agriculture.
About 250 U.S. companies and trade associations, some of them among the largest in the nation, have sent letters to every member of the U.S. Senate urging them to heed Canadian and Mexican concerns over Country-of-Origin meat labeling rules, or COOL, a law passed last year by Congress.
The issue is back and on the chopping block after the World Trade Organization (WTO) took steps to clear the way for Canada and Mexico to impose trade sanctions against some U.S. products over what they have ruled unfair trade practices imposed by COOL legislation.
The issue involves requiring meat products sold in the United States, specifically beef and pork, to bear a country-of-origin label, a measure proponents claim provides consumers food security information they need to make informed decisions on which meat products to buy. But Canadian and Mexican trade authorities and agricultural officials in both neighboring countries claim the rule has no value as a security measure and only serves to provide an unfair marketing advantage to U.S. beef, a position repeatedly supported by WTO officials.
CANADA AND MEXICO TO RETALIATE
Canadian and Mexican officials have announced a retaliatory plan to impose punitive tariffs on a host of U.S. products if Congress fails to repeal COOL as a rider to the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill expected by the end of the week, and just ahead of the holiday break scheduled for U.S. lawmakers.
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The primary purpose of the spending bill is to extend funding for U.S. government operations and avoid a government shutdown, a measure members of both parties say is necessary before Congress heads home for Christmas.
Support for COOL has lost ground in recent months after the WTO ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico, especially after Canadian trade officials announced last week they have prepared a list of U.S. products that will be targeted for trade tariffs if COOL is not definitively repealed before U.S. lawmakers take their holiday break.
Tom Sullivan, a lobbyist working on behalf of the Saskatchewan government in Washington, D.C., says Canada and Mexico have been very clear that only a complete repeal of COOL will prevent the implementation of more than $1 billion in retaliatory import tariffs on selected U.S. products, most of which are produced in states represented by U.S. lawmakers who adamantly supported COOL.
According to Sullivan, COOL has cost Canadian and Mexican livestock producers hundreds of millions of dollars since 2008 by imposing what he termed expensive segregation measures on imported cattle and hogs, in spite of the WTO ruling several times that COOL labeling is not trade compliant. WTO has only recently cleared the way for Canada and Mexico to consider retaliatory tariffs.
Meanwhile, more than 200 U.S. business associations and corporations have been lobbying lawmakers to repeal COOL in an effort to prevent economic harm and potential job losses in the U.S. Canada’s proposed retaliation list includes items such as wooden furniture, mattresses, corn, potatoes, cherries, maple syrup, fructose and fructose syrup, tomato ketchup, and stoves.
"I think there is probably a better than 50/50 chance that we will get this thing fixed now. I base it largely on the fact that this not only hurts Canada and Mexico and the cattle and hog industries, (but) it hurts a number of corporations," says Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart.
POISED TO RETALIATE NOW
But a spokesman for Canada's trade delegation reported Monday that both Canada and Mexico are moving forward with plans to impose retaliatory import tariffs on selected U.S. products by as early as Friday on the uncertainty of a rider repealing COOL being successfully implemented by the U.S. Senate on time. Last week the House successfully passed a measure that would repeal COOL, but the measure will not go forward without the Senate approving the measure as a rider to the spending bill.
Meanwhile, and closer to home, agricultural officials in Texas are reminding consumers and lawmakers of the importance of the U.S. beef industry, including its major significance for the economic welfare of Texas.
In a well-crafted open newsletter to farmers, ranchers and the general public this week, Nueces County Extension Agent Jason Ott reminds us that Texas beef is the leading agriculture commodity based on its contribution to Texas’ gross domestic product.
"Beef cattle production is an extremely important economic driver in the rural areas along the Coastal Bend as well," Ott writes, and he reminds consumers of the important dietary role beef plays in human health.
BEEF IS HEALTHY OPTION
"Beef is an important component of a healthy diet, as meat consumption has been shown to reduce stunting among toddlers in low income settings. Beef has also been linked to positively improving student test scores in impoverished countries when just one 8-ounce meat serving was provided to students each week.
He says beef also has a calorie advantage over many plant protein sources as well.
"For example, a three-ounce portion of lean beef would have around 25 grams of protein and only 154 calories, compared to 1¾ cups of black beans containing the same amount of protein, yet 382 calories," he noted.
He says strong evidence shows that lean red meat as part of a heart healthy diet lowers cholesterol. While many believe that the fats in beef are bad, Ott says in truth half the fatty acids in beef are monounsaturated, the same heart healthy type found in olive oil. Through increased retail trimming, he notes that beef external fat has also decreased by 80 percent in the past 20 years.
"Surprisingly to many, brisket is the healthiest beef," he said.
And while the beef industry is currently under assault over the environmental impact of beef production, the adoption of technology has helped ranchers minimize the environmental impact of food production in recent years. In fact, the U.S. beef industry has reduced its carbon footprint 16 percent since 1977, and this in turn has shrunk its U.S. carbon foot print by 816 million tons.
While Ott did not address the issue of COOL or its impact on the U.S. ag industry at large, his reminder of the importance of U.S. beef production should serve as a rallying point for both proponents and opponents of the COOL issue. The U.S. beef and pork industries remain viable components of and contributors to the success of U.S. agriculture-at-large.