COOL impact still unknown
By Jennifer Bremer
The impact of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) is still to be determined according to Iowa Beef Center Director John Lawrence.
"We know COOL has affected markets, but there are so many other variables that affect markets that it's just hard to tell the impact yet," he said during a session at the Iowa Cattlemen's Association annual convention held recently in Ames.
It has had an impact on feeders who have fed cattle from Canada or Mexico, since most packers have designated a specific plant for those cattle to be processed.
Lawrence said imports from Mexico have been down since COOL was put into effect. However, he pointed out, that was also the same time that corn prices were high and placements were lower than normal.
"Canadian imports had continued to hold steady through September, but were down considerable for the October through December quarter," he said.
It appears that cattle have started to be moved through the system with the affidavits to help trace the animal's origin. In general, two types of affidavits are being used, either a continuous, which means the animals are coming from the same origin until the buyer is notified otherwise, or a load by load affidavit, which is more common if imported cattle are involved.
John Masswohl, director of government and international relations for the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, said producers in his country look at COOL a bit different.
Canada and Mexico both have requested formal consultations with the U.S. regarding mandatory COOL under the World Trade Organization dispute settlement process.
The mandatory country-of-origin labeling law requires most retailers in the U.S. to ensure that country-of-origin information is provided for certain beef, lamb, chicken and pork products.
Producers in Canada argue that COOL is a trade barrier because it makes it more difficult and costly for meat packers and processors to handle meat of Canadian origin. The decision to request consultations follows discussions and representations to the United States about Canada's concerns with COOL.
WTO consultations provide the parties with an opportunity to resolve a dispute through formal discussions. If consultations fail to resolve the issue, the matter can be referred to a WTO dispute settlement panel.
Masswohl expects these consultations to be completed by mid-February, at which time he hopes the trade between the two countries will get back to normal.
He also pointed out that, according to the current law, meat is the origin of where it is slaughtered. "So if the U.S. keeps COOL in place, it will require a change in the current law," said Masswohl.
While he said all slaughter cattle should be treated the same, currently there are only two plants that will process Canadian cattle, which makes it difficult for feeders because of the extra cost to ship them there.
Labeling is another issue that came along with COOL, according to Michelle Baumhover, director of consumer marketing for the Iowa Beef Industry Council.
"Right now there are four different types of labels: U.S. country of origin, multiple countries of origin, imported for immediate slaughter and foreign boxed beef," she explained. "While you have to look for the label and it's small, it is there--right next to the nutrition facts.
"With a small sign on the meat case or a small label, it is difficult to see and I'm not sure how many consumers are aware of the change," she added.
Baumhover said the concern among most consumers seems to be more with Mexican beef, even though there have been several cases of BSE in Canada.
She thinks most of the shifts in consumer changes have been based on the economy rather than COOL.
However, some grocers have asked their suppliers to guarantee their purchases to be U.S. beef. Food service is exempt from COOL and that may be the place that any foreign meat gets placed.
Jennifer Bremer can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.