Producers, consumers win with COOL survival

Producers, consumers win with COOL survival by Sen. Tim Johnson I first introduced country-of-origin meat labeling (COOL) legislation as a junior member of the US House of Representatives. Finally, as a Senator, I was proud to work successfully with South Dakota ag producers and organizations to include mandatory COOL as part of the 2002 farm bill. My COOL amendment had strong bipartisan support in the Senate and was to have been implemented by the Department of Agriculture by fall of this year.�

Unfortunately, last year, the House Republican leadership inserted last-minute language into the omnibus appropriations bill which required USDA to delay implementation of COOL until the fall of 2006.

Most recently, these same anti-COOL leaders proposed adding language to this year's omnibus appropriations bill which would have gutted the COOL amendment by turning it into a completely voluntary program that the packers could simply choose to ignore. Once again, South Dakota ag producers and ag organizations spoke up to express strong support for retaining a mandatory COOL program.

Working in bipartisan fashion with Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) and our own Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Representative Stephanie Herseth (D-SD), we were successful in keeping the anti-COOL language out of the "must pass" omnibus appropriations bill.�

Our next effort will be to see to it that additional delay or voluntary amendments are not passed in the coming 109th Congress.

COOL is a program that will be of real benefit to livestock producers and consumers alike.�Most other industrialized democracies already have variations of COOL in place for their own consumers, and it is long overdue that the United States at last allows our citizens to know the origin of food they purchase to feed their families.

There is no reason for such a common-sense program to be expensive or complicated.�In fact, if USDA would simply mark and keep track of cattle and meat imported into the United States, there would be no need to require U.S. producers to do anything.�

Other countries have long demonstrated that COOL can be implemented without significant cost or paperwork. When USDA released a study wrongfully claiming that COOL implementation would be expensive, I joined with Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) in asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study on USDA's cost assertions.�The GAO found that USDA's cost figures were wildly incorrect and that it "used assumptions that are questionable and not well supported."

Meatpackers and retailers already track literally millions of bits of information about meat and produce they handle, including information about quality, weight, brand name, and destination.�These existing records kept by industry can be used to make COOL work, and it can be done with far less effort than USDA is currently proposing for its animal ID initiative.�

COOL is not rocket science � it is a common-sense effort intended to assist our nation's producers to effectively market a high-quality product, while also assisting our consumers in making knowing, intelligent nutrition choices for their families. This is a consumer choice tool which will have a positive benefit to our agricultural economy and our quality of life. If we can label our T-shirts with country of origin, why can't we label our T-bones?

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