R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America P.O. Box 30715 Billings, MT 59107 Fax: 406-252-3176 Phone: 406-252-2516 Website: www.r-calfusa.com E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
March 31, 2017
The Honorable Jeni James Arndt, Chair
House Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources Committee
200 E Colfax, RM 307
Denver, CO 80203
Dear Chairwoman Arndt and Distinguished Committee Members:
R-CALF USA strongly supports HB17-1234, a bill to allow Colorado consumers to
differentiate between beef produced exclusively in the U.S. by domestic cattle farmers and
ranchers and beef that is sourced from foreign countries.
R-CALF USA is the largest producer-only U.S. trade association representing the U.S.
cattle industry. Our voting members are exclusively farmers and ranchers who raise and sell
cattle. We do not represent the interests of downstream packers or processors in our nation’s
multi-segmented beef supply chain. Hence, our position in support of informing consumers as to
the true origins of beef is different than that of conventional groups whose membership and
governance includes multinational packers.
As you know, Congress repealed mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) in 2015
only as it applies to beef and pork. Mandatory labeling requirements remain in effect for chicken,
lamb, goat, venison, fish and shellfish, fruits and vegetables, macadamia nuts, pecans, ginseng,
and peanuts. Thus, beef and pork are now inexplicable outliers of a regime designed to inform
consumers as to the true origins of their food.
This is disturbing given that about 20 percent of all available beef in the U.S. is imported.
Annually, the U.S. imports approximately 3 billion pounds of beef from about 20 different
countries as well as about 2 million head of live cattle from Canada and Mexico.
from which we import beef include Brazil, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Chile,
Australia, Ireland and Canada, to name a few.
Because HB17-1234 requires only a placard next to beef rather than markings or labels
on beef packages, we believe it completely avoids federal preemption by the Meat Inspection
Act that governs package labels and markings. Further, the Trade Act of 1930 requires imported
beef to be labeled to the ultimate purchaser in the U.S., typically the packer or retailer. Thus,
together the packers and retailers know the origins of all the beef sold at retail in Colorado
without needing any additional information.
While opponents argue that packers would already be voluntarily informing consumers of
the origins of beef if consumers wanted such information, this ignores the fact that consumers are currently being misled, if not outright deceived. For example, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) allows meatpacker to use the “Product of USA” label on beef produced
from cattle that were born and raised in Canada, Mexico, or any other country provided the cattle
are slaughtered in the United States.
Also, both imported and domestic beef bears a U.S.
inspection sticker. Lacking any other countervailing origin information on the package,
unsuspecting consumers are led to believe the beef is of domestic origin. In other words, the
current system is designed not only to prevent consumers from knowing the true origins of their
beef, but also, to prevent them from knowing that they do not already know the true origins of
R-CALF USA supports HB17-1234 because it also enables competition between
Colorado farmers and ranchers and their foreign counterparts that produce lower-cost cattle and
beef in those 20 countries mentioned above.
When consumers cannot differentiate U.S.-produced
beef from foreign beef, then multinational packers enjoy absolute control over where they will
source their cattle and beef to satisfy domestic demand. In other words, the lack of origin
information on beef enables packers to bypass consumer buying preferences and to serve to the
American consumer whatever beef the packer chooses.
Indeed, in their unsuccessful 2013 attempt to declare country of origin labeling
unconstitutional, the multinational packers tried to convince a U.S. district court that, “In short,
beef is beef, whether the cattle were born in Montana, Manitoba, or Mazatlán,” which is a
testament to the packers’ contempt for the unparalleled effort that U.S. cattle producer put forth
when raising the very best cattle under the very best conditions in the world.
A lack of origin information empowers packers to exploit domestic cattle producers on
one end of the supply chain (by using undifferentiated imported product to suppress domestic
demand for cattle) and consumers on the other (by charging consumers the same price for beef
even when the cattle and/or beef obtained from foreign sources is considerably cheaper).
It is a fundamental truth that a lack of transparency harms competition. When packers
and retailers know where the beef they market originated but they refuse to share that
information with consumers, the packers’ and retailers’ market power increases while the
consumers’ market power decreases.
Please support Colorado’s consumers and cattle producers by passing HB17-1234.
Please contact me at 405-670-8157 if I can answer any questions.
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