MCOOL: An Exaggerated Issue That Doesn't Address Consumer's Main Concerns

Ronald Reagan had a famous line he often used during campaign debates, “well, there you go again”. I think about that line every time Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) resurfaces. Representative Dusty Johnson recently joined Senator Thune and Senator Rounds bringing forward an MCOOL bill and, once again, agriculture will be debating the need for MCOOL legislation. This is very disappointing to me because I feel there are far more important issues to agriculture that we should be talking about as we are working on a new Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill expires in September and issues such as MCOOL, detract from the critical issues that must be in the new bill.  

The South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association (SDCA) supports voluntary Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and opposes MCOOL. SDCA’s members formed this policy because they believe there is a greater potential for MCOOL to add costs in order to comply with MCOOL, rather than benefit the industry. I find it interesting that promoters of MCOOL are not listening to what consumers are telling them about what influences their beef purchasing decision. The survey data does not support the theory that consumers want MCOOL. Most consumers are primarily looking for a safe, fresh, affordable cut of beef that they know how to prepare and can prepare in the time they have available. They look for a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection stamp to know it is safe and wholesome. Some consumers also consider other factors, such as how the animal was raised, where it was raised, and whether there are carbon credits attached to the product. There is a small group of consumers who pay attention to where their beef comes from. They can purchase branded beef that comes with a source verification. Producers who voluntarily participate in source verification programs have an opportunity to add value to their product. 

The promoters of MCOOL often point to the cattle market dropping when MCOOL was rescinded in December 2015. What they fail to acknowledge is that the market was going down well before then. The cattle market, along with all other markets, is determined by supply and demand. The years preceding 2015 saw a low inventory of cattle nationwide, just as we are experiencing now.  When the supply of cattle caught up with demand, the price went down. Anyone who has had an economics class learned that on day one.

We are currently enjoying a very good demand for our product, which I am sure you will agree, we don’t want to jeopardize. We need to be careful about the message we are sending to consumers. MCOOL is NOT a food safety issue. All beef sold in the United States is inspected by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and is safe for consumption. Calling into question the safety of imported beef to promote MCOOL is careless and has the potential to damage consumer’s trust of our industry. We all have concerns about the beef we may receive from Brazil. The solution for that should be addressed through FSIS. Labeling has nothing to do with food safety and the two should not be confused. A verified Product of the USA label placed voluntarily on a package of beef will tell the consumers that it is of superior quality, which is the difference between domestic and imported beef.

Quality is the only factor that should be considered when discussing MCOOL.  MCOOL has nothing to do with food safety and has no influence on the cattle market. Anyone who says otherwise is grasping at straws to promote an issue that they exaggerate to energize their membership.