Today’s press conference by Sens. Daschle, Johnson and Enzi speaks volumes about the country-of-origin labeling law: the law remains one of the most controversial initiatives ever required of the U.S. food and agriculture industry. And despite claims to the contrary, the law is also extraordinarily costly with no discernable benefit.
AMI continues to believe that if country-of-origin labeling is everything that proponents promise it is, such labeling already would have been used through USDA’s voluntary program for U.S. beef. The fact that no one has embraced the program voluntarily suggests the only real value of country-of-origin labeling is its ability to block imports - the real motive behind this law. It is noteworthy that the senators chose not to reference GAO’s rather extensive references to trading partners’ objections to the U.S. country-of-origin labeling law, believing it to be a non-tariff trade barrier.
Suggestions that USDA relied on poor assumptions in calculating the paperwork costs are misguided. GAO’s report tells only part of the story of the costs of COL because the GAO calculations address only the paperwork costs. However, so much more than just paperwork is involved in implementing COL. Meat packing plants will incur costs through capital expenditures and will incur ongoing expenses involved in segregating products and additional labeling, among other things. These costs are estimated to be in the millions per plant. Suggesting that the costs of mandatory country-of-origin labeling can be measured in terms of the costs of paperwork is like saying the cost of raising a child can be measured by looking at a college tuition. It simply doesn’t tell the full story.
Suggesting that other nations already have country-of-origin labeling also is disingenuous. No other nation has the country-of-origin labeling law that the United States now faces. This law does not allow a meat product to be deemed “U.S.” if it was simply processed here. Rather, labels must detail where animals were born, raised and slaughtered. Given the number of trading partners, the potential labeling permutations of such a requirement are enormous, costly and confusing to consumers.
Finally, GAO was asked by the senators to answer only three questions about country-of-origin labeling in this report. It is interesting to speculate what GAO would have concluded had it been asked to do a comprehensive evaluation of the law instead of nibbling around some political edges. We look forward to the updated analysis that USDA will complete when it releases a proposed country-of-origin labeling rule this Fall.
We remain committed to the principle of voluntary country-of-origin labeling for those producers and packers who believe that it will benefit them. Forcing this costly and cumbersome law on American agriculture is un-American.
Reporters note: For more information about country-of-origin labeling, visit http://www.countryoforiginlabel.org.