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Editors’ Picks: U.S. cattle panel frosty on COOL

The U.S. cattle industry is far from unanimous in its esteem for mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) if a panel assembled Thursday in Phoenix is any indication.

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), in a report released Friday, offered up a selection of opinion from a panel discussion at the U.S.-based Livestock Marketing Council’s meeting held during the Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show.

Among the panelists were Cody Easterday, a Pasco, Wash. feedlot owner who in October 2008 filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) over COOL; USMEF economist Erin Daley; and CEO Barry Carpenter of the meat processors’ group, the National Meat Association.

Carpenter said the major drawback of COOL is not with the labeling, but with the segregation of cattle. He said COOL adds significant production costs, “without any recognizable benefits.”

USMEF quoted Easterday as saying COOL is causing major problems for cattle producers in the U.S. Northwest — especially the segregation requirements for cattle at the point of slaughter.

“Sometimes our feedyard might be 30 to 40 per cent Canadian cattle, but sometimes it’s zero,” he said. “If packers have to set aside certain days for killing Canadian cattle, that kind of seasonality creates major problems.”

Speaking on the impact of COOL on live cattle trade, Daley warned of the potential problems the regulation could cause in the U.S. beef trade relationship with Canada and Mexico, which together last year accounted for about 60 per cent (US$2 billion) of U.S. beef exports.

Rounds

“CattleFax estimates that, at the very least, it will cost cattle producers $50 to $60 per head (all figures US$) if we lose the NAFTA export markets,” USMEF quoted Daley as saying.

“In addition to the large volume of variety meats that we export to Mexico, rounds are a very popular item in that market. Rounds also make up a large portion of our exports to Eastern Canada. It would be very hard to absorb these products into the domestic market.”

Furthermore, she said, the “mixed origin” label required under COOL also creates difficulties for U.S. beef exports because it is not accepted by any major trading partners.

“Mixed origin meat simply can’t be exported — not even back to Canada,” she said. “We have enough hurdles and obstacles that already interrupt trade. Why create one more?”

Easterday also warned it was unlikely consumers will find a distinction between U.S. meat and “mixed origin” product — and just as unlikely that consumers would pay a premium based strictly on country of origin.

“Once a customer buys that (mixed origin) meat at a discount and it tastes the same, how will you ever get them back?” USMEF quoted him as saying.

Nothing new

Carpenter, according to USMEF, said the final COOL rule (set to take effect March 16) is designed to minimize the amount of segregation required at slaughter. But it’s still possible that COOL as it now stands could be delayed for further review and revision by President Barack Obama’s administration.

However, “of comments on COOL are reopened, USDA is not going to hear anything new,” he said. “It’s just going to be the same parties making the same arguments about the same issues.”

USMEF also quoted Bill Jameson, a cattle feeder and cattle buyer from Moose Jaw, Sask., who while in Phoenix called COOL “the worst thing that’s ever happened to the North American cattle industry.

“If our Canadian cattle end up getting sold at a discount, yours will too,” he said.

— The “Editors’ Picks” feature will highlight unusual-yet-true news from the world of farming, as gleaned from various sources by the editorial staff of the Farm Business Communications division.

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