Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary by U.S. Senate Minority For more than 60 years, Americans looking for a standard of quality when shopping for clothes, furniture or house-hold appliances have needed only to look for the �Made in the USA� label. That label gives consumers confidence that they�re getting a quality American product and allows them to support American workers in the process.

Buying American is a simple but significant act of patriotism that each of us can do every day. And, with the recent detection of Mad Cow disease in a Canadian-born Holstein in Washington State, many Americans are also realizing it�s the safe and smart thing to do.

That�s something Congress realized a while ago. In the 2002 Farm Bill, Congress expanded �Made in the USA� labeling beyond clothing and electronics to include farm products, from apples and oranges to pork and beef.

Just as the �Made in the USA� label gives shoppers the confidence they�re getting a quality product, we felt it should also give Americans the comfort they�re eating home-grown food. And the �USA label� effortlessly boosts our nation�s hard-hit farmers, ranchers and producers, who can proudly differentiate their products from foreign foods on grocery store shelves.

We called the effort country-of-origin labeling, and now we�re seeing just how important it is: the first case of Mad Cow disease in the United States has caused a recall in eight western states. And with 43 countries banning imports of U.S. beef, the incident is hurting America�s ranchers and livestock industry. All because of one Canadian cow.

Americans have confidence in U.S. beef, and they should. The safety and quality of U.S. beef is the highest in the world. However, if consumers can�t tell where their beef is coming from, that confidence will be jeopardized, and the damage to our livestock industry could be catastrophic.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares our sense of urgency. Despite the fact that country-of-origin labeling was signed into law 20 months ago, the Department of Agriculture has not yet implemented it. In fact, the Republican leadership in Washington is trying to get rid of it altogether.

The handful of big corporations who don�t want to comply with the new law teamed up with the Republican leadership in Washington, and they set out to stop the program even before it could get started.

Last month, the Republican leadership secretly added a provision to a spending bill that effectively removes the �USA label� from every peach, potato and hamburger patty in your local supermarket.

This special-interest favor to the meatpacking conglomerates will prevent shoppers from knowing whether the beef they buy is American or foreign.

This makes absolutely no sense for farmers, ranchers or consumers. It does, however, make sense to the powerful economic interests who want to undermine the new law. While the �USA label� could inspire confidence about food safety and public health, the labeling is slightly inconvenient for the large corporations who would be required to affix a sticker to their products and track the meat from stockyard to store shelf.

In the 2002 Farm Bill, Congress was clear. The labeling law protects consumers by requiring that only beef born, raised and slaughtered in the United States can be labeled a U.S. product. A Canadian-born animal � even one that�s been brought to this country � would not be labeled a U.S. product. And consumers would have the information they need to make an informed decision.

Given the Mad Cow incident last month, the Bush Administration should immediately implement the country-of-origin labeling program for meat and produce. And the Republican leaders who want to eliminate the �USA label� should re-think their priorities.

For America�s farmers, ranchers and producers � and for Americans� peace of mind � we should all be allowed to buy American at the grocery store.

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