In South Dakota and Montana, we take our beef seriously. We may disagree with each other about which of our states produces the better tasting beef, but we share the strong view that the highest quality beef in the world is raised right here in the United States.
We also agree that the beef labeling system in our country needs to change. Currently, imported beef that is neither born nor raised in the United States, but simply finished here, is allowed to be labeled as “Product of the U.S.A.” The ground beef you picked up from the grocery store to fire up on the grill this weekend during the game could have originally come from a country half way around the world, but just because it was packaged here in the United States, there could still be a misleading label on it. At that point, the only thing that’s potentially made in the U.S.A. is the packaging it’s wrapped in — if that.
To address this, the 2002 and 2008 farm bills included mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef. Unfortunately, the World Trade Organization (WTO), essentially the global referee when it comes to trade between nations, ruled against the United States on MCOOL for beef. Despite our opposition, Congress repealed MCOOL in 2015. Standing up for cattle producers is, and always will be, a top priority for us, which is why we have introduced legislation that would provide a path forward for the reinstatement of MCOOL for beef.
Our American Beef Labeling Act would require the U.S. trade representative (USTR), in consultation with the U.S. secretary of agriculture, to develop a WTO-compliant means of reinstating MCOOL for beef. Specifically, our bill would give USTR six months to develop a reinstatement plan followed by a six-month window to implement it. If USTR fails to reinstate MCOOL for beef within one year of enactment, it would automatically be reinstated. That would ensure when you see a “Product of the U.S.A” label on your beef, you can trust it.
Our legislation currently has eight cosponsors in the Senate, and a bipartisan companion bill has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. We will continue working to build support from our colleagues to advance this important legislation because having transparency in labeling that benefits producers and consumers alike is just common sense.
** Note to editors: This column first appeared on Agri-Pulse.com.