Capitol Hill is revisiting MCOOL and looking to support demand for American beef

Pandemic supply chain challenges and recent volatile beef prices have sparked a new conversation about bringing back mandatory country of origin labelling, nearly seven years after it was repealed.

There is a new effort underway on Capitol Hill to reinstate mandatory country of origin labelling with the American Beef Labelling Act.

Previous versions have been struck down by the World Trade Organization, but Sen. John Then thinks he has a solution.

“What our legislation does is it gives the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, here in Washington, six months working in consultation with USDA to come up with a WTO compliant way of getting COOL implemented... so, six months to come up with it, six months to implement it, if at the end of the year it’s not implemented then mandatory COOL would kick in, and that will just fight it out at the World Trade Organization,” according to the Senator.

He thinks that shifting the process to the U.S. Trade Rep’s office will produce a more nuanced program that could withstand WTO scrutiny.

“We wanted to give our trade negotiators, the people who are responsible for implementing trade policy in this country, a chance to write this in a way-- in the past we’ve always done it in Farm Bills, Congress has written it, and obviously it hasn’t listed the legal challenges that it’s been hit with at WTO,” he states. “We think this is a way to get that done.”

Sen. Thune has been a longtime advocate for country of origin labelling and says it supports demand for American beef: “Being able to differentiate your produce and particularly if you have a high quality product is going to give you a competitive advantage. I think what it will do is drive demand toward American products and by that I mean born, raised, and harvested here in the United States. So, I think, you know, increased demand always raises prices. Now to make sure that they get the benefit of that price, there are some things that we can do in the market right now-- respect transparency.”

He has also introduced complementary legislation to strengthen the current “Product of the USA” label.

“What’s concerning to a lot of us is, you can have a ‘Product of the USA’ label on beef coming into this country from other places around the world, and... all that has to be done, in some cases, is be packaged here. If it’s finished in any way before it goes out to a supermarket on the retail shelf, if anything’s done to it, they can carry that label-- that’s misleading,” he adds.

Thune was joined by Senators Jon Tester, Mike Rounds, and Cory Booker in introducing the legislation.


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