by Jeff Clemetson, Editor
A few months back I reported on how the USDA loosened regulations on meat producers, allowing them to ship chicken to China to be processed only to be shipped back to the US for our consumption. This is the very opposite of sustainability, flying in the face of everything we know about buying and eating local. Well apparently the government had an answer to consumers rightfully worried about the safety of meat products being shipped halfway around the world to be processed under auspicious guidelines then shipped halfway around the world back again. The solution is a brand new labeling requirement called COOL.
COOL, which stands for Country of Origin Labeling, will show consumers where their meat comes from and whether it was slaughtered or processed in another country. For example, if a steak was entirely domestic, it would have a label that reads “Born, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States.” Conversely, if a chicken was raised in the US but slaughtered and packaged in China, it would have a label saying “Born and Raised in the US, Slaughtered in China.”
The COOL labels were not the idea of the USDA. Our government has always been up for bids when it comes to corporate food producers getting their way in hiding where and how our food is made. Just look at the overwhelming support for GMO labels which has happened nearly everywhere in the world but here at home. The COOL labels were actually adopted to become compliant with rules set by the World Trade Organization.
The new labeling requirements have predictably ruffled some feathers among those who mass produce meat products. Tyson Foods, which is one of the companies that began moving its chicken producing operations to China, has been the most vocal in opposition to the new COOL system. In a statement released by the company after the rules went into effect, Tyson said “these new rules significantly increase costs because they require additional product codes, production breaks and product segregation, including a separate category for cattle shipped directly from Canada to U.S. beef plants, without providing any incremental value to our customers.” Funny how they mentioned Canada and not China, which has been a PR nightmare for the company since it closed many of its processing facilities in the US and moved them to China.
Another group that has surprisingly protested against the new labels in the National Cattleman’s Beef Association. One would think that a “National” organization would fight to protect the interests of US beef and not the interests of foreign competitors. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In a statement made to CNN, association President Scott George said “while trying to make an untenable mandate fit with our international trade obligations, USDA chose to set up U.S. cattle producers for financial losses.” Apparently exploiting cheap labor and lowered food safety standards is the only way meat can be profitable for our “National” Cattleman’s Beef Association.
But not all US meat producers are against the new labels. The American Grassfeed Association is fully supportive of the new labels which bring “more transparency” to the industry. Of coarse, locally-raised, organically-grassfed, hormone-free beef will most certainly all tout the “Born, Raised and Slaughtered in the US” label and won’t have the stigma of being just another product and job shipped to a country with poor wages and poor safety standards.
Another plus about the COOL labels is that they apply to all meats, including lamb, veal, fish, chicken, beef and turkey – just in time for Thanksgiving. So make sure you buy a turkey this holiday which is born, raised and slaughtered here at home. Happy Holidays everybody.