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TheBeefSite Newsletter - 25 September 2013

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Wednesday 25th September 2013.
Michael Priestley - Editor

Michael Priestley

Balancing the Costs and Benefits of COOL

As the world’s beef production systems become more complex and cattle are born and finished in more varied locations, labelling has come to the forefront of industry policy.

With enhanced traceability comes extra cost and some serious questions about whether some labelling systems are worthwhile pursuing at all.

Since 2008, Canadian ministers have rallied to quash US attempts to impose a mandatory country of origin label (COOL) for beef and pork.

This came to a head in May when Canadian governments threatened retaliatory action when the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled that the US COOL was inconsistent with Free Trade obligations.

What this has left is a policy in which US beef packers are required to list the countries where the animal was born raised and slaughtered.

So, instead of saying ‘Product of Mexico and the United States’ the label might say ‘Born in Mexico, raised and slaughtered in the United States’.

This offers consumers clearer information when buying beef but a Kansas State professor is not sure whether the benefits of labelling outweigh the costs.

Professor, Glynn Tonsor, an expert in agricultural economics at Kansas State University predicts that this is capable of causing an ‘economic drain’ that can even extend to cow-calf producers.

He sees more segregation increasing the problem Canada and Mexico have with selling livestock to the US while US packers will be saddled with higher costs of bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, noises from within the farming community at the start of the summer were suggesting that packer-producer organisations do not want to see COOL anyway.

On the subject of producer-packer groups, NFU President Roger Johnson said: It is important to understand that these organizations have never supported COOL because they can make more money by blending foreign products into American meat and pass it off as US-produced.”

So, it is the consumers are going to benefit. Not so says Professor Tonsor, who has studied demand for COOL meat.

He found that the man in the street has never heard of COOL and that such a labelling change would not alter market demand for beef steak and other proteins.

These conclusions do not agree with a Consumer Reports poll carried out back in 2008.

The poll found over 95 per cent of consumers wanting to see clearer labelling, detailing country of origin.

This kind of confusion is likely to carry on as experts have described COOL as a ‘multi-year’ process, still yet to be fully resolved.


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