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Editors’ Picks: U.S. feedlot suing over COOL

A cattle feedlot owner at Pasco, Wash., is suing his own government over the arrival of country-of-origin labelling (COOL), the Canadian Press reported this week.

The Toronto-based national news agency reported Wednesday that Cody Easterday filed suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a U.S. District Court last month. His company claims COOL will increase record-keeping and operating costs and deter meat packers from buying Canadian-born cattle from his feedlot.

COOL was imposed Sept. 30, after years of U.S. congressional haggling, and U.S. beef and grocery retailers have six months to comply. Easterday estimated for CP that U.S. packers are already discounting the prices they pay him for Canadian-born or Mexican-born cattle by as much as $30 per head.

The U.S. northwest is home to just two major beef packing plants, CP said, noting the AB Foods plant at Toppenish, Wash., about 250 km southeast of Seattle, and Tyson Foods’ facility at Wallula, Wash., about 135 km east of Toppenish. At those plants, as many as 30 to 40 per cent of the cattle come from Canada.

The issue of cross-border cattle shipments doesn’t strike home in the U.S. Midwest or northeast, said Easterday, whose feedlot is about 25 km northwest of Wallula.

“They move back and forth across the border all the time,” he told CP, referring to Canadian and U.S. cattle. “Any time there’s a wrench in that, we jeopardize the livelihood of the cattle industry on both sides. They need us and we need them.”

Easterday also told CP that COOL offers no additional protections in terms of U.S. beef safety, though consumers may think it does. Rather, he said, COOL simply allows retailers to discount non-U.S. products of equal quality.

COOL’s most vocal support comes from small, independent ranchers who sell their own products, CP said. But the main U.S. ranchers’ group, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, has long opposed mandatory COOL and called for a voluntary program.

Colin Woodall, NCBA’s executive director of legislative affairs, told CP that while COOL’s supporters suggest it will mean higher prices paid for cattle, he replies that the law is “simply driving down prices for everything else.”

U.S. packers and retailers have long criticized mandatory COOL, calling it an potentially expensive and burdensome exercise.

— 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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