This fight has gone on far too long! Not the battles between the cattlemen and HSUS, Sierra Club, PETA, or even chicken producers. No, I mean the fight among cattlemen over mandatory country-of-origin labeling (MCOOL). I have been witness to and part of this “Hatfield and McCoy” feud over the last two decades and can testify it has been a heck of a tussle.
I think it’s best to start with the premise that no one is blameless for this mess. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was for MCOOL before it was against it. The packers shouted “NO!” so many times that everyone ceased to hear them. The National Farmers Union strove for total victory and when they had the chance to throw a bone to the losing side they turned their back – a grave mistake. Last but not least, R-CALF USA stalked MCOOL with an Ahab-like determination that led them to a predictable end. Indeed, many hands are sullied today.
We now find ourselves at a crossroads looking for direction. The industry has let this issue slip from its grasp and into the clutches of the World Trade Organization and a similarly unpredictable Federal court system. What a shameful predicament.
Let’s face it: MCOOL is a North American livestock problem. We have clumsily maneuvered ourselves into an internecine fight with our nearest neighbors, Mexico and Canada. We break bread with these people, we do business with them, they are our friends, they are fellow cattlemen! We need to stop this nonsense, and the sooner, the better – or we all will suffer.
It is time to pull together the principal actors who hold the ability to find a solution and work out a compromise, immediately. We have a chance in this Farm Bill to set this issue back onto a sane path. The two opposing sides are found in the cattle sector, and they know who they are. They need to come together forthwith, lock themselves in a room and resolve to not come out without a deal. The pork industry and the packers will play a role, peripherally, but make no mistake: the cowboys must settle this feud.
It comes down to this: MCOOL has evolved into a livestock issue – not a meat issue. US consumers seek to buy meat; they count on “us” – that is, a diverse, 21st Century, North American meat industry – to raise and process the livestock. I would be the first to acknowledge that a reasonable labeling regime for imported, consumer-ready meat is justifiable. But this isn’t about meat, or animals, from some far-off land coming into the US – it’s about product from our own continent. Let’s be serious…requiring labeling of meat from animals whose value was primarily added in this nation and – significantly – was packed under USDA inspection is beyond absurd. I’d say the prospect of labeling our product with a “born, raised and slaughtered” sticker is a joke, if it wasn’t such a tragically short-sighted debacle in the making.