A short window of opportunity exists for changing the country-of-origin meat labelling rule before a new U. S. administration dashes Canadian cattle producers’ hopes.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association hopes the outgoing Republican administration will make COOL more trade-friendly before the incoming Democrats take office January 20.
Otherwise, COOL may stay the way it is under a more protectionist regime, said John
Masswohl, CCA’s international relations director.
“I think it’s fair to say that the current (Republican) administration certainly never hid the fact that they did not approve of country-of-origin labelling and they’ve tried to make it as flexible as possible,” Masswohl said.
“We’re still sensing that view is still out there and if they can accommodate something, they would try to do that. I don’t get that sense from the incoming administration.”
Masswohl noted President by
elect Barack Obama and 30 other U. S. senators signed a letter in September demanding the U. S. Department of Agriculture enforce COOL strictly.
The interim final COOL rule went into effect Sept. 30. But it has yet to be published in final form, leaving the possibility of last-minute changes.
Canada last month announced preliminary steps toward challenging COOL at the World Trade Organization.
There are three categories of cattle under COOL: born and raised in the U. S. (A); Canadianborn feeders fed in the U. S. (B); and Canadian-fed cattle imported directly for slaughter (C).
CCA is lobbying for flexibility so that U. S. packers may mix C and B cattle instead of having to segregate them all at extra cost to producers and the industry.
Its lobbying targets include U. S. farm groups, many of which do not fully grasp COOL’s effect on U. S. packers.
“The message has got to be for these guys that, if they want their packing plants to be viable in a long-term, sustainable, profitable manner, then they can’t have these artificial restrictions on where they buy cattle from,” said Masswohl. “That’s kind of where the light bulbs start to go on.”
Masswohl attended cattle association meetings in Nebraska and Kansas in December to give CCA’s perspective on COOL.
He said Canadian producers are not against U. S. retailers labelling beef from Canada as Canadian. But they do oppose labelling beef from Canadian-born cattle slaughtered in the U. S.
Masswohl said Nebraska producers told him they hadn’t realized COOL’s implications for their industry.
The Kansas Livestock Association passed a resolution opposing COOL. The motion adopted at KLA’s annual meeting in Wichita, Kansas said the group “would support the repeal of the mandatory program if market signals indicate such a regulation is not benefiting consumers or producers.”
A KLA spokesperson in Topeka, Kansas said the group has always supported a voluntary COOL, not a mandatory one.
The KLA resolution is seen as significant. Masswohl said Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas together have enough weighted delegate votes to carry the day at National Cattlemen’s Beef Association meetings.
However, Masswohl doubted U. S. cattle producers are about to rise up en masse against COOL.
“I’d say it’s premature to say there’s a groundswell against COOL in the U. S. I think they’re starting to move along the understanding curve that this isn’t a good thing for them,” he said.
“What we’re finding is, there wasn’t a whole lot of thought anywhere about the impact between B and C cattle, other than the concern we had up here.
“What we’re sensing is that there is some willingness to explore another option and that the willingness has certainly grown exponentially since Canada initiated the WTO process.”
CCA’s Washington lawyer recently met with the U. S. National Farmers Union, a COOL supporter, to propose a possible compromise. Masswohl said the NFU asked for more information.