Editorial

Editorial by the Plain Talk U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced June 24 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had received final test results from England, confirming that a sample from an animal that was blocked from the food supply in November 2004 had tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

As we expected, this event has �stirred the troops� so to speak. Their battle cry: We need mandatory Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL).

We disagree. We�ve never been convinced that COOL is a good idea.

It would be cumbersome. It would be costly. It would add to the increasing amount of red tape and bureaucracy that both ag producers and ag processors face these days.

And, at a time when beef sales have been steadily climbing, no good evidence has been produced to demonstrate that COOL is needed.

Those who squabble that mandatory COOL be implemented are doing a fine job of diffusing their own arguments.

We received this statement from Dennis Wiese of the South Dakota Farmers Union: �We have long thought that it was inevitable that an American cow would contract BSE, and that day has come. We are very disappointed that the USDA took seven months to complete their testing and trace back of this animal. There can be no stronger case for a Country-Of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) system to be immediately implemented, so that the process of trace back and containment can move in a quick and efficient manner.�

He couldn�t stop there, however. �Let me make this very clear; the United States� beef supply is the best and safest in the world, and I would not hesitate to spend the upcoming Fourth of July weekend with my family enjoying hamburgers and steaks on the grill,� Wiese said.

We share his sentiment. That�s why we don�t need mandatory COOL.

On June 24, Rep. Stephanie Herseth, whose campaign platform includes strong support for mandatory COOL, stated in a press release, �I want to stress, however, that U.S. consumers should continue to have every confidence in our beef supply � in American born, raised and processed beef.�

We share her sentiment. That�s why we don�t need mandatory COOL.

Those who support mandatory COOL never mention that the USDA already has a compliance system in place that is used for meat products under the ag department�s commodity procurement program. They won�t tell you why they don�t think this system offers enough regulation or safeguards.

The COOL law for U.S. origin requires the meat products to be from cattle, hogs, and sheep born, raised, and slaughtered in the United. States. The USDA commodity procurement program requires meat products to come from U.S.-produced livestock. The definition of U.S.-produced livestock excludes only imported meat and meat from livestock imported for direct slaughter.

The system for verifying compliance with the USDA commodity procurement program is a �command and control� type system. USDA, through various certification or audit programs, confirms the applicable claim at the beginning of the process, then tracks and controls the movement of the product throughout the rest of the marketing chain.

A similar system for COOL would require USDA to verify that the livestock was born in the United States, then track and control the movement of the livestock and resulting meat products through the marketing chain to retail.

A mandatory COOL law would require that labeling of meat derived from three different animals � one each born in Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. � must be different � even though all three animals are slaughtered at the same U.S. plant, inspected by the same USDA inspector, and subject to the same food safety criteria.

COOL is a regulatory nightmare. On top of that, it�s not designed to prevent Mad Cow Disease from coming into the U.S.

We already have effective systems in place for that. The infected animal recently talked about in the news was blocked because safeguards are working exactly as intended. This animal didn�t enter the food supply because of the firewalls we have in place. Americans have every reason to continue to be confident in the safety of our beef. Without COOL.

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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