By Tom Ballard
It is a common occurrence in American grocery stores: A person walks up to the meat section and is faced with a large selection of varying pink-colored meats he or she can buy. The meat is wrapped in clear plastic with a rectangular, white label with basic black print that gives information on the package’s contents. Until last year, these labels included Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), which stated from where in the world the meat came. But due to political and economic interests, these labels were eradicated and so was the people’s right to information.
On June 10, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed “H.R. 2393: Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act of 2015” by a margin of 300-131, according to govtrack.us, a website dedicated to tracking the condition of proposed legislation in Congress. The legislation, which passed with a large amount of bipartisan support, began to gain traction after the Canadian and Mexican governments filed a complaint in 2008 against the U.S. to the World Trade Organization (WTO), an intergovernmental organization that regulates international trade.
According to the complaint, Canada and Mexico claimed that COOL, which required that meat products must include information on where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered on the package, discriminated against meat from foreign countries. A summary of the dispute raised by the two countries stated that COOL “(imposed) less favourable treatment to imported livestock than to like domestic livestock… creating an incentive for U.S. producers to use exclusively domestic livestock and thus… (creating limited) competitive opportunities of imported livestock.”
The problem with the viewpoint of our neighbors to the north and south is that their goal is one of purely economic benefits to their countries, while COOL legislation was meant to protect and inform the American people.
According to an article from The Chicago Tribune from Monday, Jan. 4, the repeal of COOL, which took effect on Friday, Jan. 1, only applies to beef and pork and not to chicken or lamb products, which still requires labeling.
An NPR article from Dec. 17, 2015, showed that some members of Congress supported the repeal of COOL not because they found the labeling harmful to Americans, but because of fear of retaliation from the Canadian and Mexican governments.
“It doesn’t matter if you support COOL or if you oppose COOL,” Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts said, according to the NPR article. “You cannot ignore the fact that retaliation (from Canada and Mexico) is imminent and that we must avoid it.”
The same NPR report explained that the WTO gave Canada and Mexico the green light to charge American businesses $1 billion in tariffs after the U.S. lost its final appeal to the WTO in July. These tariffs would not have only applied to foreign meats, but also to other goods, such as furniture, metal tubing and jewelry.
But Americans love eating meat. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average American consumed 195 pounds of meat in the year 2000. According to an NBC News article from Oct. 26, 2015, Americans now eat an average of 270 pounds of meat each year, an increase of 75 pounds in just 15 years. The same NBC News report stated that the average American consumes 71 pounds of red meat a year (beef, veal, pork and lamb). With Americans consuming so much meat that does not fall under current COOL regulation, Americans are often left in the dark over where their meat is from.
Consumers should have the right to know from where their meat comes. If Americans choose to buy domestic beef, which arguably has its own downfalls (but that’s a debate for another day), then they should have the right to do so. If Americans decide they want to stay away from U.S. beef, then that should also be their right to know and do so.
In a world plagued with the occasional regional breakout of some meat-related disease, COOL would make it easier for consumers to know which meat is at risk and would allow them to make the decision of whether or not purchasing meat from another country is worth the risk. Also, consumers might be worried about the conditions of which meat are bred and slaughtered in and might opt to support meat from countries with high standards that ensure that the animals are treated humanely and that labor laws protects the workers.
To be entirely honest, if I were in a supermarket looking to pick up ground beef, I would most likely not care enough about where it came from to look at the labeling. But as an American, it should be my right to be able to ignore the label and not have the outside governments of Canada and Mexico dictate to me that those labels should be nonexistent altogether. The repeal of COOL keeps Americans who actually care about the origin of their meat from having the opportunity to make their own decisions while shopping.
While Washington politicians caved to political and international pressures, the governments of Canada and Mexico celebrated the defeat of a “discriminating” measure that gave Americans the right to know where their meat comes from. This land, my land, your land, our land is a little less free than it was a year ago before Congress and other world powers squashed the American people’s right-to-know.
Students share opinions around campus
COOL labeling on food?
“I think it would be interesting to (include COOL labels), but I don’t think it’s a necessity.”
“(The government doesn’t) have to, but they can. It would probably be more informative for people.”