The current meat labeling method is misleading, according to Sen. Jon Tester

Lawmakers are taking a close look at how meat should be labeled, as part of a broader effort to improve competition and resilience in the livestock and packing industry.

There is a new push on Capitol Hill to bring back mandatory country of origin meat labeling. Montana Senator Jon Tester says that the current system is misleading.

According to Sen. Tester, “When the buyer goes into the meat counter, they see a USDA inspected seal. That seal is very, very important but a lot of people think that’s U.S. beef and it’s not. It can be, but it also can be Brazilian. What it means is it’s been inspected by the USDA and that’s what that seal means. Well, we want a different seal that says ‘Product of USA'-- that’s a whole different ball of wax.”

The Senator’s legislation would direct the Trade Representative’s office to create a WTO compliant version of MCOOL within a year.

“We don’t want to lose our trading partners. Trade is really important across the board, especially for agriculture, but for everybody,” he states. “I think it can be made WTO compliant, without a lot of heartburn... Some say too much time, but I think it is an adequate amount of time to be able to make sure that it is WTO complaint. Now, if they can’t get it done, this does it for them.”

He hopes this will allow USTR to better defend their work, if trade issues arise.

“When COOL went away in 2015, I can tell you I don’t think we put up near as good a fight, and I think if we go into this with the idea we’re going to make this happen. I think USTR will step up to the plate. Hopefully, Congress will step up to the plate and pass the bill too.”

Sen. Tester says that he has been working on country of origin labeling for 25 years, to support both producers and consumers.

“I think the consumer needs to know what they’re putting in their family’s bodies, and I think USA raises the best beef, the safest beef in the world and that’s not bragging-- that’s fact. On the other side of the equation, we got cow-calf operators that are up against that they’ve had some really tough years and tough markets because there was consolidation in the marketplace. This I think is going to help add value at the farm gate for those cow-calf operators,” he adds.

USDA is also in the process of studying the current voluntary “Product of the USA” label, which Tester says means less to consumers than a mandatory label.


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