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USDA removes labeling requirements from beef and pork

Grant Gerlock
Harvest Public Media

From Harvest Public Media:

The federal government has wiped off the books the controversial law that required grocery stores to label cuts of pork and beef with their country of origin.

The rules around Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) require retailers to note where the animal that produced cuts of meat was born, raised and slaughtered. The World Trade Organization, however, said last year that the labels were an unfair trade barrier for meat producers in other countries.

Congress repealed mandatory labelling on beef and pork late last year, after the U.S. lost a World Trade Organization dispute with Mexico and Canada. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has now made repeal official via a notice in the Federal Register, although labels are still necessary for poultry, fish and a list of other foods.

Over 90 percent of the beef, pork and poultry consumed in the U.S. is produced by American farms. But some ranchers wanted protection from foreign competition and viewed the labels as the meat version of a “Made in the U.S.A.” sticker.

Many of the largest meat companies argued the labels were unnecessary, as they don’t denote any safety issues. Regardless of labeling, imported meat is subject to U.S. food safety rules, according to Kansas State University livestock economist Glynn Tonsor.

“When we bring meat in, it still has to pass safety protocol by USDA, just like it does if it’s produced here,” Tonsor said.

The 2002 Farm Bill was the first to require country of origin labeling on meat. After seven years of rulemaking and legal wrangling, the labels finally reached supermarket shelves in 2009.

Harvest Public Media’s Grant Gerlock contributed to this report.