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Voluntary U.S. Meat Certification Program Preferable to Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Washington, DC—A voluntary, U.S. meat certification program is a far better alternative to a costly, burdensome, mandatory country-of-origin labeling program, according to American Meat Institute (AMI) President J. Patrick Boyle. Boyle made his comments in testimony submitted to a Senate Subcommittee on Marketing, Inspection and Product Promotion, held today in Joplin, MO.

Boyle noted that AMI and several other associations one year ago petitioned USDA to create a new, voluntary, fee for service U.S. beef certification program administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service. “Under this system, the market would provide for what country-of-origin 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,” he said. “Under this program, those who believe that to be true could enter the market with those products and, if the benefits outweigh the costs, succeed.”

He also said that contrary to proponents of country-of-origin labeling, this is not a consumer right-to-know issue, because it applies only to food purchased at retail (not at foodservice) and to some red meat products (not poultry), fruits and vegetables and peanuts (not walnuts, almonds or any other nut).

“It is ironic that proponents assert that the consumer has a right to know the country-of-origin regarding the hamburger he purchases at a retail store, but does not have the same right regarding the hamburger he ate at a restaurant just before going grocery shopping – even though both hamburgers could have come from the same animal. Where’s the logic?” Boyle asked.

Proponents have argued that consumers will be willing to pay more for products that are marketed as “Made in the U.S.A.” Boyle said it is unclear whether in practice, consumers actually will pay more. Assuming they were to do so, he questioned whether additional revenues to retailers would be sufficient to offset the costs of this program (estimated to be in the billions of dollars) and whether those additional revenues would be passed on to producers who favor the labeling.

Boyle also said that given the substantial civil penalties for errors in such labeling it is reasonable for retailers and packers to expect suppliers to be able to certify that information provided about animals and raw materials is accurate.

“AMI shares the goal of those who seek to promote U.S. products, but we oppose the goal of those who seek to discriminate against imported products,” he said. “In our view, mandatory country-of-origin labeling will create untenable barriers to imported meats, damage our ability export U.S. meats and mandate significant costs throughout our industry.”

A copy of AMI’s testimony is available on http://www.meatinstitute.org/Template.cfm?Section=Country-of-OriginLabeling&NavMenuID=171&template=TaggedContentFile.cfm&NewsID=671 .

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
Vice President, Public Affairs
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs

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