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R-CALF's May 31 Letter to Key Lawmakers Is Riddled With Errors, Contradictions and Distortions, American Meat Institute Letter Shows

Wednesday, June 6, 2007
 

In a letter to key lawmakers, the American Meat Institute (AMI) pointed out the errors, contradictions and distortions contained in a May 31 letter recently sent to Capitol Hill by the anti-trade group Ranchers Cattlemen’s Action Legal Fund (R-CALF).

“Although a highly unusual event, a statement included in the first paragraph of a May 31, 2007, letter you recently received from Dr. R. M. Thornsberry, R-CALF President, has a ring of truth to it – i.e., that the recent set of correspondence you have received regarding mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) provides a ‘unique opportunity to bare the bones of the COOL issue,’” AMI President J. Patrick Boyle said. “Unfortunately, thereafter, Dr. Thornsberry's letter parts ways with the facts.”

Boyle told Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) that Dr. Thornsberry was simply wrong when he claimed that a particular federal regulation (9 CFR 94.22) made COOL necessary for food safety reasons.

“What Dr. Thornsberry fails to recognize, either intentionally or through negligence, is that the regulation cited is not promulgated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the federal food safety agency charged with administering the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), which is the federal statute that establishes the food safety parameters for meat, be they domestic or foreign in origin” Boyle said. “Rather, the regulation at issue was promulgated by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service…. it addresses not food safety but issues of animal disease, specifically foot and mouth disease in Uruguay.”

Dr. Thornsberry’s letter also cites the recent issues involving melamine in animal and pet food as added proof that mandatory COOL is needed. But following Dr. Thornsberry’s logic suggests that producers will be forced to account for and certify the sources of what they feed to their animals, as well as the sources of the components of that feed.

“As the facts of the melamine incident demonstrate, the livestock and feed production sectors are complex, and one cannot assume that because an animal was born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. that all or some of the components of what they were fed also were solely from the United States,” Boyle said. “Indeed, unclear from Dr. Thornsberry’s letter is whether he is also calling for producers to certify the origin of the feed, and its various components, they provide to their livestock as a food safety measure and whether that information also should carry forward to the ultimate consumer.”

Boyle indicated in his June 5 letter that he was pleased that R-CALF acknowledged the accuracy of AMI’s recent efforts in a May 24 letter to highlight the existence of mandatory country-of-origin labeling for finished meat and poultry products. Yet Boyle indicated he was simultaneously puzzled by why Dr. Thornsberry would accuse AMI of “decisively false claims.”

R-CALF also distorts conclusions about a GAO report on the Federal Meat Inspection Act’s requirements for foreign systems and plants. Boyle wrote that although R-CALF casts the report as justification for mandatory COOL as required in the 2002 Farm Bill, the solution to the issues cited by GAO is insistence that USDA administer the FMIA the way Congress intended when it enacted that law.

“In short, it does not follow that the ills identified by GAO in its criticisms of FSIS will be cured by the implementation of the mandatory COOL provisions included in the 2002 Farm Bill, because the new country-of-origin labeling provisions are unrelated to the FMIA and they will be administered by a completely different government agency -- the Agricultural Marketing Service,” Boyle said.

Thornsberry also errs in his citation of the Tariff Act by failing to recognize, either intentionally or through negligence, key language in the FMIA that is consistent with how FSIS has administered that statute for many years. Specifically, the FMIA provides that
All such imported articles shall, upon entry into the United States, be deemed and treated as domestic articles subject to the other provisions of this chapter and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act: Provided, That they shall be marked and labeled as required by such regulations for imported articles: … 21 U.S.C. 620(a).

The regulations referenced in this section of the FMIA are those cited by AMI in its May 24 letter. Moreover, the longstanding policy of FSIS to treat a meat product that is produced by a federally inspected establishment as a domestic product is consistent with the above-quoted language in the FMIA and is logical.

“It flies in the face of common sense to conclude that meat products processed at an establishment in the U.S., inspected by USDA officials, that bear the U.S. mark of federal inspection; and that have been processed pursuant to a law enacted by the U.S. Congress are not of American origin,” Boyle said.

Boyle noted that R-CALF mistakenly claims that WTO permits COOL when in fact the opposite is true. Specifically, R-CALF cites Article 3(b) of the WTO Agreement, but a careful read of this article shows that it requires that country-of-origin be determined by "the country where the last substantial transformation has been carried out." Mandatory COOL provisions in the 2002 Farm Bill violate the "substantial transformation" rule by requiring that a meat product sold at retail be marked to indicate separately the country in which the animal was born, the country in which the animal was raised, and the country in which the animal was slaughtered.

“The substantial transformation issue is just one of many ways in which the 2002 COOL law violates U.S. obligations under the WTO and NAFTA,” Boyle said. “U.S. meat producers and ranchers alike rely heavily on tough enforcement of international trade rules to ensure access to foreign markets. U.S. credibility in enforcement will be seriously undercut if U.S. laws that violate those very same rules are permitted to go into effect.”

In closing his letter, Boyle offered a detailed briefing to Sen. Kohl and Rep. DeLauro. “Such a meeting would give everyone a chance to see the 2002 Farm Bill’s country-of-origin’s provisions for what they really are -- a thinly disguised attempt to erect protectionist trade barriers,” he said.

To see the letter in its entirety, go to:

http://www.meatinstitute.org/AdminTemplate.cfm?Section=Re-Set_Cached_Pages&CONTENTID=5259&TEMPLATE=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm
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For more information contact:
David Ray
Vice President, Public Affairs
202-587-4243
dray@meatinstitute.org
Janet Riley
Sr. Vice President, Public Affairs
202-587-4245
jriley@meatinstitute.org

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