Editorial

Editorial by the Plain Talk We don�t expect the people we elect to Congress to renege on positions they�ve taken either while in office, or during their election campaigns.

That�s unfortunate. Sometimes it would be refreshing to see politicians change their minds. Especially when they are wrong.

Several weeks ago, we let our readers know that we aren�t too crazy about a provision in the Farm Bill calling for country of origin labeling (commonly known by the acronym COOL) of agriculture products to eventually become mandatory.

Time and again, however, Rep. Stephanie Herseth called for the implementation of mandatory COOL during her campaign. So did Sen.-elect John Thune. Sen. Tim Johnson and Sen. Tom Daschle have been vigilant these past two years, trying to make mandatory COOL a reality.

This week, it appears COOL�s days are numbered, thanks mainly to Daschle�s loss to Thune in the Nov. 2 general election.

House Republicans are trying to wipe COOL off the books as part of a spending bill they plan to finish this month.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-MO, said he expected the Senate to agree to repealing the measure, whose main champion two years ago was Daschle.

As part of the 2002 farm bill, country-of-origin labeling was supposed to have gone into effect this fall. Congress last year postponed it until 2006.

That allowed COOL to be a part of this year�s political campaigns here in cattle country. Candidates and agricultural organizations alike have extolled the virtues of labeling ag products.

You never heard them mention that costs to various industries to implement COOL could exceed the benefits they receive from consumer premiums for U.S. meat.

You never heard them mention that one private industry association estimates that COOL will cost the red meat industry and USDA about $1.06 billion.

Politicians also never told you this: Beef is the number one protein in America according to 2003 USDA consumption data and the demand for beef continues to grow. In 2003, demand increased 6 percent according to the beef demand index, which considers the rate of beef consumption and the price consumers are willing to pay for beef products.

America�s demand for beef has increased more than 16 percent since 1998. The bottom line is consumers are willing to pay more for the beef they love. Consumer spending on beef has grown about $16 billion compared to the 1990s, according to Cattle-Fax.

South Dakota beef producers really don�t have to worry about sticking a �made in the U.S.A.� label on their products. If they can get those beef products to store shelves, they will sell.

While sales of U.S. beef have grown steadily within our country�s borders, our export market has been struggling.

Even though nearly one-quarter of the U.S. export market value has been recovered, the U.S. beef industry has experienced significant loss during the six months since the December 2003 U.S. diagnosis of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), according to the National Cattlemen�s Beef Association. Industry experts conservatively estimate BSE has cost the U.S. cattle industry between $2 and $2.3 billion dollars in lost export value on beef, beef variety meats, hides and tallow. �

The United States traditionally exports about 10 percent of production but when the first U.S. case of BSE was diagnosed in an imported Canadian cow in December 2003, most major export markets closed. In 2003, U.S. beef and beef variety meat exports totaled 1.28 million metric tons valued at $3.86 billion.

Traditional primary export markets Japan, Mexico, the Republic of South Korea and Canada accounted for nearly 83 percent of export volume and 88 percent of export value in 2003.

You never heard politicians say that COOL could effectively hinder that $3.8 billion beef export market.

They�ll gladly tell us that we have a right to know where our meat comes from, especially if we desire to �buy American.� You�ll never hear them mention that COOL, in effect, truly acts as a tariff serving domestic protectionism.

Mandatory COOL, in this sense, is a marketing philosophy that works just fine within our borders, but likely would backfire when we try to sell beef to other countries.

U.S. trading partners have long opposed mandatory COOL, viewing it as a trade barrier thinly disguised as a consumer right-to-know issue. There is some speculation that trading partners will retaliate, hindering trade and driving up costs.

The Bush Administration has never supported mandatory COOL. There�s a good reason for that.

It�s a bad law.

It�s time for Congress to finally recognize that. Before going home at the end of the year, we encourage Daschle, Herseth and Johnson to forget about mandatory COOL, and focus, instead, on making labeling voluntary.

If there is any merit to country of origin labeling, the ag industry would have adopted it without Congress� help.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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