Beef labelling taken to task

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Origin labelling, Food industry, Meat

The US National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) has taken the
first steps in creating a country of origin labelling programme.
Put together by a specially organised NCBA task force, the
programme consists of a US label that provides value to the
consumer and meets the expectations of producers who want the beef
from their cattle to carry the USA label.

This Task Force, which represents all industry segments from the cow/calf producer to the consumer, outlined the initial steps during a meeting this month in Denver. Two key actions were identified. Firstly, the body said that there was a need to co-operate with representatives from the food industry to develop pilot projects for country of origin labelling using existing USDA guidelines. This includes all segments of the industry, from cattlemen to the retail sector. Secondly, the task force wants to carry out consumer market research to identify benefits to both producers and consumers.

"Cattlemen want country of origin labelling and we are working on a programme that meets their needs,"​ said Jim McAdams, NCBA​ vice president. "We're about creating a workable solution to address their concerns."​ The pilot programmes will be conducted under existing approved USDA programmes.

The first steps, to take place in January, will be to identify existing programmes that could be used as partners/models for NCBA pilot projects. Likewise a meeting will be held with other industry segments to review the task force recommendations and seek input and participation.

"The goal all along has been to create a programme that puts money into producers' pockets, not one that subtracts from it,"​ McAdams said. "Now we will return to our work of creating a country of origin labelling programme that works - one that gives everyone who sells US beef, not just retailers, the right to tell their customers that they sell the best beef in the world. And we will work to do it in a way that is profitable for the participants."

NCBA will ultimately use its pilot programmes to determine how the industry will implement country of origin labelling for all segments of the beef marketing chain. The efforts of the task force are being taken to meet expectations of producers and fulfil the directives approved by the NCBA board of directors.

"The key to this effort is coming up with a programme that will create a net benefit to producers - that is, minimise the costs to cattlemen while maximising the value to consumers,"​ said McAdams. "Any country of origin labelling programme must put money back into the pockets of US cattle producers."​ The plan will be presented to cattlemen at the Cattle Industry Annual Convention on 28 January 2004.

The issue of country-of-origin labelling in the US has been bubbling away for decades. For more than 70 years, goods imported into the United States have been required to be labelled with the product's country of origin so that the ultimate consumer will know where it was produced. But certain products such as fruit and vegetables were exempted from the original labelling law. Some industry organisations such as Americans for Country of Origin Labeling​ (ACOL) argue that the current COOL bill, which will amend this loophole, must be passed. Fruit and vegetable imports into the United States topped $1.7 billion in 1996.

But not every sector of the food processing industry is in sympathy with the coalition. The National Pork Producers Council​ (NPPC) for example believes that the recent Congressional block is a big win for the US pork industry.

"While NPPC continues to oppose mandatory country-of-origin labelling, the two-year time out period should give all parties ample time to create a voluntary, market-driven framework," said president Jon Caspers. "We must now work to resolve the many problems with mandatory country-of-origin labelling - its failure to raise hog prices long-term; exemptions for chicken and turkey products; a reduction in record US pork exports and less than 50 per cent of pork products would be covered by country-of-origin labelling."

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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