New Year’s question: What do various organizations with membership comprised of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, urbanites and rural folks, and consumers and producers, all have in common?
The answer is: They all want Congress to pass a new law so they can know where their beef comes from. The new law they want is the American Beef Labeling Act that requires country of origin labels on beef. This is known as mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef.
And I can prove that that’s the right answer. In early 2023, 50 diverse organizations representing millions of Americans sent a joint letter to Congress urging swift enactment of the American Beef Labeling Act, which requires beef to be labeled as to where the animal was born, where it was raised, and where it was slaughtered.
And here’s the proof of the diversity: Organizations joining the letter included the Consumer Federation of America and National Farmers Union, the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association and National Women Involved in Farm Economics, the American Economic Liberties Project and the Coalition for a Prosperous America, which is largely a manufacturing group that addresses trade policy.
So why would millions of Americans with such diverse backgrounds and even polar ideals all urge Congress to swiftly enact MCOOL for beef?
We can look at court records for the answer. Here are excerpts from a United States appeal court opinion and a concurring opinion when the court defended MCOOL in the face of a lawsuit filed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and trade associations representing transnational beef packers.
The court said this when determining the value of MCOOL for beef:
“The Government has long required commercial disclosures to prevent consumer deception or to ensure consumer health or safety.”
“Some consumers might want to know whether their U.S.-made product was made by U.S. citizens and not by illegal immigrants.”
“[C]ountry-of-origin labeling is justified by the Government’s historically rooted interest in supporting American manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers as they compete with foreign manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers.”
“Country-of-origin labeling, it is widely understood, causes many American consumers  to buy a higher percentage of American-made products, which in turn helps American manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers as compared to foreign manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers.”
“[T]he Government has a substantial interest in this case in supporting American farmers and ranchers against their foreign competitors.”
“The country-of-origin labeling requirement at issue here is purely factual, is not unduly burdensome, and . . . is reasonably related to the Government’s longstanding interest in supporting American farmers and ranchers.”
“Obviously it enables a consumer to apply patriotic or protectionist criteria in the choice of meat. And it enables one who believes that United States practices and regulation are better at assuring food safety than those of other countries, or indeed the reverse, to act on that premise.”
“But here we think several aspects of the government’s interest in country-of-origin labeling for food combine to make the interest substantial: the context and long history of country-of-origin disclosures to enable consumers to choose American-made products; the demonstrated consumer interest in extending country-of-origin labeling to food products; and the individual health concerns and market impacts that can arise in the event of a food-borne illness outbreak.”
“Supporting members of Congress identified [MCOOL’s]  purpose as enabling customers to make informed choices based on characteristics of the products they wished to purchase, including United States supervision of the entire production process for health and hygiene.”
“The Congress that extended country-of-origin mandates to food did so against a historical backdrop that has made the value of this particular product information to consumers a matter of common sense.”
“[I]t seems reasonable for Congress to anticipate that many consumers may prefer food that had been continuously under a particular government’s direct scrutiny.”
“But such studies,” the court said, “combined with the many favorable comments the agency received during all of its [MCOOL] rulemakings, reinforce the historical basis for treating  [MCOOL] information as valuable.”
“Simply because the agency believes it has other, superior means to protect food safety doesn’t delegitimize a congressional decision to empower consumers to take possible country-specific differences in safety practices into account. Nor does such an agency belief undercut the economy-wide benefits of confining the market impact of a disease outbreak.”
So there it is – the reason millions of Americans want MCOOL for beef in 2023 is because they all value supporting America’s food supply chain, competition, transparency, and food safety.
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R-CALF USA’s weekly opinion/commentary educates and informs both consumers and producers about timely issues important to the U.S. cattle industry and rural America.
R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America) is the largest producer-only trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516 for more information.