Glasgow Courier: 'Where's the Beef' From?

by Chris McDaniel

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) is reviving efforts to force meat companies to place country-of-origin labeling (COOL) on cuts of beef sold at market.

COOL was initially authorized in 2013, but was curtailed a few years later when the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service amended it to remove beef and pork meat, dairy products, cereals and grains and various nut species from labeling. Commodities still subject to the law and regulation include muscle cuts and ground portions of chicken, lamb and goat meat; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; wild caught and farm-raised fish and shellfish; raw peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and ginseng, according to the USDA.

Tester on Sept. 17 unveiled his bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act in Billings with community leaders and ranchers from Yellowstone County.

Tester was joined by Operations Director of R-CALF USA Candace Bullard, Columbus Rancher and Member of the United States Cattlemen’s Association Leo McDonnell, and Corine Thatcher Day of the of the Yellowstone Valley Citizen Council’s Community Food Campaign.

“Montana producers raise the best beef in the world, and it’s time that folks know for certain when they’re buying American beef at the supermarket,” Tester said. “Beef raised in the USA faces the strictest standards to ensure the highest quality of meat. My bipartisan legislation will level the playing field for Montana’s family farmers and ranchers and guarantee American families the choice of the highest quality beef by making sure they know where their food is coming from.”

The American Beef Labeling Act also is sponsored by Senators John Thune (R-SD), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Mike Rounds (R-SD). Tester said he has been determined to reinstate COOL since its 2015 repeal, and in 2020 introduced a bipartisan resolution urging the U.S. to enter into necessary trade negotiations to allow the United States to re-implement it in a manner that is compliant with WTO regulations.

“The House needs to pass this legislation,” said during a phone interview last week. “I am calling upon them to do it, and hopefully they will get it done. “We had mandatory country of origin labeling in 2015. Some folks brought up a challenge to it through the World Trade Organization, and we dropped it. I thought it was a mistake then, I thin it is a mistake now. I think we can maintain our trading partners and make this thing WTO compliment, and that is what this bill will do.”

As the only working farmer in the U.S. Senate, Tester said he has long been an advocate for increased market transparency and more competitive practices for Montana producers. He recently introduced his bipartisan Meatpacking Special Investigator Act which would create a new dedicated office within the Department of Agriculture’s Packers and Stockyards Division, addressing anticompetitive practices in the meat and poultry industries. He also recently introduced his bipartisan Livestock Disaster Relief Act with Senator Hoeven (R-ND) to ensure Montana’s ranchers receive necessary relief to recover from future disasters.

Specifically to Valley County, Tester said he believes the American Beef Labeling Act “helps both the consumer and the cow/calf operators – small and medium size feeders. It makes it so ‘made in the United States,’ ‘product of the USA,’ can be differentiated in the marketplace. I think that gives us a market advantage, and I think that creates market demand, and I think the more demand, the better the outlook is at all levels, but especially the cow/calf level.”