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AMI to House Committee: Make Country-of-Origin Labeling Voluntary for Meat Products

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Washington, DC – A voluntary country-of-origin labeling program would provide a reasonable response to the limited but vocal demand for COOL labeled meat in the marketplace without creating the expensive, burdensome and protectionist mandate that the mandatory program poses, AMI President and CEO J. Patrick Boyle said today in testimony submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture.

Boyle stressed AMI’s longstanding policy of opposing mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat and poultry products.

“During my tenure at AMI I have yet to hear an argument from proponents of mandatory COOL that makes sense for the producer, packer/processor, retailer or for the consumer,” Boyle said.

Proponents’ arguments center on food safety and the consumer’s right-to-know – both of which have little or no merit, Boyle said.

The food safety argument falls flat as meat products imported from countries eligible to ship to the United States are inspected under a food safety system equivalent to U.S. standards, reviewed annually by USDA experts, subject to reinspection at ports of entry and, ultimately inspected by USDA in federally inspected meat plants, Boyle said. Not only that, USDA will inspect both domestic and imported animals at federally inspected meat plants, thereby exposing the flawed logic behind the food safety argument, Boyle said.

The consumer right-to-know issue is what prompted mandatory COOL’s inclusion in the 2002 Farm Bill, Boyle said. However, that argument also rings hollow, he said.

“Perhaps the greatest flaw in the consumer right-to-know logic is that the law applies to covered commodities sold in retail establishments, but the same commodities sold in restaurants are exempt from mandatory labeling,” Boyle said.

Another problem posed by mandatory COOL is that the law imposes on retailers and distributors of covered commodities the responsibility for accurate labeling, and provides for civil penalties for errors in such labeling. In the livestock and meat industry the only people who can provide accurate information as to the country of origin of livestock are livestock producers – not the packer and not the retailer, Boyle said.

“Yet, some producers deny their accountability and seek to shirk that responsibility, asserting that they should be able just to declare the country of origin of their livestock,” he said. “Packers and those up the chain, however, must be able to rely on something more because it is the packer, the wholesaler, the retailers and others in the chain who will bear the brunt of the regulatory burden if the producer’s information is wrong, either through negligence or fraud.”

Some argue that producers should “just track the imports,” Boyle said. The national treatment provisions of the U.S.’s international trade agreements require that the country-of-origin provisions law, including the necessities of recordkeeping, be applied equally to everyone - whether they import livestock or raise hogs or cattle domestically.

“To do otherwise violates the WTO and create a non-level playing field, a playing field decidedly in favor of those who advocate that AMS should ‘just track the imports,’” Boyle said.

AMI joined the National Meat Association, Food Marketing Institute, American Farm Bureau Federation and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in petitioning USDA one year ago for a new, voluntary, U.S. beef certification program, he said.

“Under this system, the market would provide for what COL proponents profess to be the case – that the American consumer will prefer and pay more for meat products from animals born and raised in the United States,” Boyle said. “Under this program, those that believe that to be true could enter the market with those products and if the benefits outweigh the costs, will succeed.”

To view a Web site with comprehensive information on the country-of-origin labeling issue, visit www.countryoforiginlabel.com.

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Together, AMI's members produce 95 percent of the beef, pork, lamb and veal products and 70 percent of the turkey products in the U.S. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory, public relations, technical, scientific and educational services to the industry. Its affiliate, the AMI Foundation, is a separate 501(c)3 organization that conducts research, education and information projects for the industry.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Senior VP, Public Affairs
Dan Murphy
Vice President, Public Affairs

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