Washington -- The House Agriculture Committee's Livestock & Horticulture Subcommittee today called on representatives of cattle and sheep ranchers, general farm organizations, retailers and processors to work together to fully explore development of a voluntary country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program.
"Our visits with various participants in the COOL debate suggest there is real opportunity to develop a source-verified initiative for U.S. beef and lamb that encourages all segments of these industries, from the ranch to the grocery store, to work together in marketing the origin of their products in a positive manner relative to consumers' needs and expectations," said Subcommittee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA).
Mandatory COOL has been advocated by some livestock and farm organizations as a beneficial marketing tool, but has drawn criticism because of trade and regulatory impact concerns. One year ago, the Subcommittee held a hearing on COOL to analyze this multi-faceted issue. Since that hearing, Congress has received reports from the General Accounting Office (GAO) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the costs, benefits and potential alternatives to COOL.
"While these reports raise concerns regarding a 'mandated' approach, there remain those who believe country-of-origin labeling can be a useful marketing tool to help U.S. cattle and sheep ranchers earn more from the marketplace. Since the reports do leave the door open regarding the potential for marketing benefits from a voluntary approach, we are firmly suggesting that all interested segments of these industries work in good faith on a compromise that addresses their respective goals and concerns," Pombo said.
The Subcommittee's Ranking Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), agreed with Pombo, saying that there is plenty of room for all sides to come together on a mutually acceptable strategy. "I continue to believe that it is in everyone's best interests to ensure that our limited federal resources are used in an effective and prudent manner. While I have raised concerns regarding a mandated COOL program, I share Chairman Pombo's belief that the interested parties in this discussion can and must work together to come up with a program that addresses their needs and goals in being able to advertise to consumers the origin of their products," said Peterson.
Both Members indicated their awareness of discussions that began late last year among commodity and general farm organization representing cattle and sheep producers and representatives of retailers and processors. Those organizations include the American Sheep Industry Association, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Food Marketing Institute, the American Meat Institute and the National Meat Association.
Pombo said he will be requesting a briefing for all Members of the Subcommittee on the progress of these discussions once Congress returns from the April Recess.