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FARM FILE, A COLUMN BY ALAN GUEBERT

Shut up, butt out, get lost

Saturday, August 31, 2013 - 12:01 am

On Aug. 27, the late summer heat of Washington, D.C., was spit-roasting locals and tourists alike up and down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Inside the U.S. District Courthouse, a half-block off the main thoroughfare and just three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, however, all anyone from Mexico to Canada could talk about was COOL, the American law that requires U.S. food sellers to reveal – label –the country of origin of the meat they sell.

The courthouse crowd argued over COOL because earlier this year, in response to a World Trade Organization ruling, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rewrote the labeling law to be, it says, more WTO-compliant.

Not so, claimed some of COOL's chief opponents, like the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the Canadian Pork Council and Mexico's National Confederation of Livestock Organizations, who, in July, filed a federal lawsuit to stop it.

It's not surprising that Canada and Mexico and their respective livestock organizations would fight labeling laws that tell Americans what they put in their roasters, skillets and grills may not be American-bred, fed or butchered.

Indeed, both nations are sovereign powers whose duty is to protect the interests of their citizens by all legal means. If that includes suing USDA in U.S. federal court over meat labeling rules that almost certainly will affect sales of Canadian and Mexican beef, pork and poultry here, well, game on.

What is surprising, however, is that the foreigners have as co-plaintiffs two American livestock groups who, too, say the USDA labeling rules must be dumped.

In effect, these groups, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), are telling American consumers, who favor COOL by a 4-to-1 margin, and American red meat producers, who stand to gain huge leverage in the U.S. retail meat market, to shut up, butt out and get lost.

Nuts, right?

You'd think these self-crowned leaders of American hog and cattle producers would actually stand with American hog and cattle producers on labeling American pork and beef in America.

After all, it is the law; Congress approved COOL in 2002.

The hitch, however, lies with the groups' big buddies, the Big Meatpackers. The packers hate COOL because it prevents them from commingling foreign and domestic animals in feeding operations and at slaughtering plants which, when killed, chilled and boxed, can then be peddled as U.S.-sourced no matter the origin.

That opaqueness is willful, profitable and – to most consumers – deceitful.

Not to Big Meat and its Washington, D.C., lobbyists, the American Meat Institute, American Association of Meat Processors, North American Meat Association and the Southwest Meat Association. All joined the American livestock groups and Canada and Mexico to sue USDA in an effort to kill COOL. (The entire lawsuit is posted at meatami.com/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/92223.)

Curiously, the lawsuit’s key argument is as American as a Nebraska-raised steer. The COOL rule, it suggests, “ …violates the United States Constitution by compelling speech in the form of costly and detailed labels on meat products that do not directly advance a government interest.”

And what of advancing the interest of American consumers who like knowing that their ground chuck came from New Mexico, not Old Mexico, or the pot roast on tonight’ s menu was raised somewhere in South Dakota, not somewhere in South America?

Well, says the multi-national Meat Gang, shut up, butt out and get lost.

Moreover, NPPC and NCBA said the exact same thing to every American cattleman and hog farmer when the groups joined the lawsuit: We know what’s best for American cowboys and hog farmers, so just shut up, butt out and get lost.

Here’s a better suggestion: U.S. cattlemen and hog farmers should give the narrow-based, meatpacker-allied NPPC and NCBA the heave-ho. COOL is a huge winner for U.S. farmers and ranchers; that’s why our competitors and packers hate it.

Besides, when did it become not COOL to be an American farmer and rancher?

Alan Guebert’s Farm File appears File appears Saturdays. Contact him at agcomm@farmandfoodfile.com or Alan Guebert, 21673 Lago Drive, Delavan, IL 61734. His website is www.farmandfoodfile.com.