Tyson Foods officials say the company will commit to Label A as designated under the federal mandatory country-of-origin labeling law for most of its retail, fresh meat cuts. Label A designates that the animal which produced the product was born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.
Originally, Tyson had committed to place it's beef and pork products under the Label B category, which is a "multi-country" label, regardless if an animal originated in the United States. That more flexible label allows packer/processors more scheduling and product-flow capabilities, as well as limiting the high costs associated with segregating livestock and products.
Pressure in Washington raised the issue that the COOL law's intention is to differentiate U.S. meat products from those of other countries. Consequently, USDA now says it will work to close the "loophole" of using Label B on products from animals that originate in the United States.
In a letter to customers and producers, James Lochner, Tyson Fresh Meats senior group vice president wrote: "If we do not take measures to more fully meet the desires of mCOOL advocates and many lawmakers, and label a large percentage of retail, fresh meat cuts as a product of the United States, it is likely some flexibility included in the current regulations will be eliminated."
With that, Tyson will work to label its beef and pork from livestock born, raised and processed in the United States with Label A by mid-2009. Company officials estimate nearly 90 percent of all the fresh beef and pork cuts produced in the United States would qualify for that label. However, Tyson will continue sourcing foreign livestock, and will label product from those animals with Label B or C "in the least cumbersome manner allowed by USDA."
In a related matter, Tyson officials are asking USDA to simplify the livestock identification process for producers. They also want Congress and USDA to provide market transparency in terms of documenting how COOL impacts livestock values, and has requested that USDA expand price reporting to include these new livestock and product categories.
The company is asking its livestock suppliers to segregate all foreign-born livestock. The company will accept a continuous affidavit if a producer chooses to produce and sell exclusively Label A or B livestock. It will require those who produce and sell both Category A and B livestock to present an affidavit for each load unless the producer raises livestock in multiple locations and can designate specific feeding operations as Category A or Category B.
"Increased costs will result from these changes," Lochner notes. "Ultimately, we believe these additional expenses will have to be passed on through higher finished product prices or reduced prices for livestock."