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Statement of the American Meat Institute On Sen. Daschle's Call to Resurrect Country-of-Origin Labeling

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

(Attribute Statement to AMI President J. Patrick Boyle)

Sen. Tom Daschle's demand that the Bush administration immediately implement Country-of-Origin Labeling is inappropriate and alarmist in trying to link country-of-origin labeling and any food safety issue -- particularly BSE. Mandatory country-of-origin labeling is a costly and cumbersome law whose true purpose is to impede imports.

Indeed country-of-origin labeling, estimated by USDA to cost $3.9 billion in the first year alone -- would be disruptive and costly ranchers, cattle feeders, meat processors and grocery retailers and in turn drive food costs up and cattle prices down.

This law is far more than “slightly inconvenient,” as it was characterized today. In fact, for the thousands of cattlemen, processors and retail grocers who would bear the burden of this law, the costs represent a staggering burden. That is why the Office of Management and Budget said unequivocally that it was one of the most costly laws reviewed in this administration.

It is ironic, too, that at a time when the meat industry is suffering significant losses as our trading partners use a non-scientific rationale to close their borders to U.S. beef exports that Sen. Daschle is now calling for additional costs to be imposed on those same companies.

Let's be clear: Country-of-Origin Labeling also has no connection whatsoever to BSE in cattle, nor would implementation of this law have assisted in USDA's ongoing BSE investigation. The firewalls in place to protect U.S. cattle from an outbreak of BSE have done their job, and the recent strengthening of those precautions announced by USDA Secretary Ann Veneman last week will strengthen them even more. Because the BSE infectious agent is not present in meat, applying a label to an already safe product does not somehow add "more" safety.

Finally, characterization of Country-of-Origin Labeling as a consumer right-to-know issue is disingenuous because the COOL language included in the Farm Bill in 2002 excludes all foodservice products and exempts poultry from the requirements imposed on beef, pork and other red meats. If this were truly about what consumers need to know, then why were more than one-half of all the animal protein products produced in this country exempted?

The bottom line is that attempts to cast COOL as either a necessary food-safety net or as a consumer right-to-know issue are simply partisan politics that detract from important ongoing discussions about BSE prevention and control. We are optimistic about the efforts to respond to the BSE case in Washington state, and we remain fully confident in U.S. beef safety and the safety of imported beef products.

For more information contact:
Dan Murphy
Vice President, Public Affairs
Ayoka Blandford
Manager, Public Affairs

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