Labeling your product is good business, so it seems. For years companies have been marketing imitation food products to the detriment of real products. Why would anybody buy an imitation product when you can have the real thing for less money?
A couple of senators are floating a bill around called the Real MEAT Act intended to differentiate the fake product from the real product through labeling, which sounds good. But then John Tester (D-MT) throws an amendment out for mandatory country-of-origin labeling (mCool). Read the story in Nov. 4 issue of WLJ. And Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) introduced a bill called the U.S. Beef Integrity Act, which would allow the “Product of USA” label to be placed on beef exclusively raised in the U.S.
Didn’t we go through this in 2002 when meat labeling first came up? Then it became law in the 2008 farm bill. The packing industry complied but the price of beef didn’t go higher. Canadian and Mexican live cattle did change because cattle buyers were being cautious about how the law would be implemented. So those cattle prices went down. On the surface I support labeling, but how are you going to do it?
I would like to see the beef industry design an easy process to label beef that was born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. The last law only covered whole muscle cuts sold at retail. Ground beef was exempted, as well as beef sold in restaurants; perhaps 30 percent of beef was covered. The last law was repealed because it was a bad law.
Canada and Mexico filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization, which found the bill was in violation of international trade law. They allowed Canada and Mexico could impose $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. products going into their countries. Do we really think U.S.-born cattle are that much better than cattle from Mexico or Canada? They are all the same genetics today. Do we really want to make a law to keep them out?
This whole episode is intended to reduce cattle supplies and influence the price of live cattle in the U.S. It isn’t about providing consumers better information. Kansas State University did a study and found that most consumers really didn’t care. Our friends at R-CALF and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association have been peddling mCool for years to keep Mexican feeder calves and Canadian fed cattle out of our market.
We have a North American beef supply chain. The U.S. has the feeding and slaughter capacity to take on our neighbors’ cattle. Producers make money raising Mexican steers. Then we send them back fresh beef cuts and variety meats.
Now we must get through the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) episode and Congress needs to pass the trade bill. Foreign trade of beef is where our future lies. We do produce the best beef in the world; at least that’s what I think. There are 6 billion potential consumers of U.S. beef around the world, and the USDA label means a lot.
Now let’s talk about the Impossible Burger and Beyond Beef imitation beef patties, also referred to as fake meat. Over 50 percent of beef consumed in the U.S. is hamburger, ground beef. The fake meat guys are going to try to compete with us for ground beef market. Will they earn a little share of our market? Perhaps, but it won’t be as much as they think. Try the product before you make up your mind. It’s not beef. Perhaps these fake products will displace enough beef we won’t have to import lean grinding beef.
Then we need to talk about animal identification. If you want mCool, you need to support mandatory age and source verification, mandatory animal ID. What perplexes me is that, on one hand R-CALF wants mCool, then they turn around and fight mandatory age and source identification. I don’t think you can have one without the other, do you?
This debate would be easy if cattle were born and raised in one location like poultry, hogs and dairy. Cattle are trucked all over North America to take advantage of regional resources. Right now, we don’t have the tools to track them all over North America.
The cattle industry needs to make some decisions about labeling and animal ID. It appears that our foreign consumers would like that information more than domestic consumers. Would these two issues allow us, as an industry, to earn more global market share? We should work together to get a workable identification system in place in order to sustain and grow the beef industry and sell cattle at higher prices. This is the supply and demand equation at work. — PETE CROW