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The Power of Power

Billings, MT | Go buy a T-shirt. You’ll find a mandatory label on the shirt that is at least as prominent and conspicuous as the cleaning instructions. The label informs you as to the country in which the T-shirt was made. As a consumer, this gives you choices. You can compare prices based on quality and the country in which it was made. It also enables you to choose if you want your hard-earned dollars to support T-shirt makers in Nicaragua, or those in the United States. Fact is, you get to choose.

Now go to your grocery store and buy a package of T-bone steaks. You’ll find a mandatory U.S. inspection label and nutritional label, but you won’t likely find a label that informs you if those steaks were produced in Nicaragua, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, any one of the other 20 countries that multinational beef packers source their beef, or if it was produced in the United States.

So why is that? Why in the United States, are you not informed as to the country your beef was produced when virtually every other modern country in the world does provide that important information to its citizens?

Well, the two-part answer is as easy as it is disgusting. First, it’s because the multinational beef packers that profit by keeping American citizens in the dark are far more powerful than are the clothing manufacturers who lacked the power to hold Congress at bay when consumers asked where their clothes were made.

For clothing, honesty, transparency, and integrity prevailed. For your beef, it did not.

Second, the power possessed by the multinational beef packers to keep American consumers in the dark by holding Congress at bay is more powerful in the United States than elsewhere. That’s why you can go to Europe and find country of origin labels on beef. Not so in the good ole’ United States. Behold the power of power, and the feebleness of Congress.

Here’s yet another example of how powerful lobbyists have made multinational beef packers even more powerful. Long ago Congress passed the Tariff Act of 1930. That’s the Act that requires nearly all imported products to be labeled as to their country of origin. It even includes beef. It says that foreign labels are to remain on the product unless the product is turned into something else through a substantial transformation process after it enters the United States.

Now more than 30 years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrote regulations to implement the Tariff Act’s labeling requirements…at least that’s what it was supposed to do…but it didn’t. Instead, the USDA said that once foreign beef enters the United States, it is to be considered a domestic product.

Don’t you wish you could just call up a federal agency and tell the leadership, “Hey, that law just doesn’t work for me so why don’t you carve me out an exception.”

And this is why, over 30 years later, the USDA is just now engaged in a rulemaking process to try to rebalance the interests of hundreds of millions American citizens with those of a handful of powerful, multinational beef packers that have earned untold profits by convincing the USDA to help them keep American consumers in the dark.

Are you starting to get angry yet?

You should be because you now know why Congress and the USDA have refused to allow you to know whether your beef was produced under the high production standards in the United States or if it was produced under lesser standards in some far-off foreign country.

So, here’s something to try: Call your members of Congress and ask them why you can know the country where your T-shirt is made but you can’t know the origin of the beef you buy for yourselves and your family.

Chances are you’ll get this response: “I support country of origin labeling for beef, but the World Trade Organization has decided the United States can’t require beef to be labeled. So, unless the World Trade Organization changes its position, there’s nothing I can or will do.”

Now you should be really angry if the only reason an American citizen cannot know where their beef is from is because some unelected and unappointed global institution is now supporting the multinational beef packers’ interests of holding your Congress at bay. And why, pray tell, can other modern countries, such as those in Europe, provide country of origin labels to their citizens when the United States can’t?

You suppose the World Trade Organization might have a bias against the United States?

A recent poll revealed that 86% of registered voters want to know the origins of their beef.

It’s time to tell your members of Congress that you’re angry they’re not listening to you. Please call them and tell them to require your beef to be labeled with its country of origin.

Tell them to support the American Beef Labeling Act, S.52, and tell them to do it quickly.


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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.

Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) 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.

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