The Cattle Range Home Page
March 8th
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What was so Cool about COOL?


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What was so Cool about COOL? -- Mack Graves

Remember when country of origin labeling, also known as COOL, was hot?

I always liked the idea of labeling meat with information from whence it came. At the time, consumers were clamoring for more information about how and where food animals were raised.  In fact, that clarion call still resonates.  But, the hue and cry from the industry against COOL would make you think it was a conspiracy from the dark web or worse.

The proponents of COOL trotted out the standard argument for nearly anything that affects meat and poultry labeling, ďIt will be good for consumers as it will enable them to make a more informed choice.Ē  Also a part of their argument was that COOL would provide a competitive advantage for US produced meat ratcheting all the way back to cattle producers who would be able to get paid more for their cattle.

It was no wonder then that an organization representing some US cattle producers argued vehemently in favor of COOL which morphed into mandatory country of origin labeling, mCOOL, and became the law. 

All fresh meat thus had to be labeled by its country of origin.  This was soon challenged by the other cattle producer organization, NCBA and the meat processor trade group, AMI, the precursor to North American Meat Institute, NAMI.  They prevailed and in 2014 mCOOL was overturned.

Interestingly, Canada and Mexico had promised more than $2 billion a year in retaliatory tariffs if mCOOL on meat would have been implemented and continued.  Sound familiar?  At least itís not steel or aluminum.

With all the threats, suits and counter suits both promised and brought forth, I guess it is a good thing that mCOOL wasnít continued.  

While mCOOL has gone away, the need for transparency in labeling has become a more insistent call from consumers.  To answer this consumer need, I believe that some form of voluntary label identification of the meatís history is a valuable marketing tool.  

If our government wonít mandate COOL (and the last thing we need is another impinging government regulation) then I think individual meat companies should do so voluntarily.  In fact there are a few meat companies who already do so by proudly labeling that their meat products are born, raised and processed in the USA.

If U.S. meat companies can prove that their meat products are, in fact, from the USA but are afraid to label their meat as such because of pressure from the industry, this does all of us a disservice.  It galls me when I go into a retail store and see a package of meat which I know contains raw material that was imported from some foreign land right next to a package of US produced meat.  Usually, that imported meat is cheaper.

Can we shame consumers into buying U.S.-identified meat rather than cheaper foreign meat?  I think shaming and/or scaring consumers that imported meat may be unsafe are the wrong strategies and probably wonít truly influence a purchase decision in favor of the U.S.-produced product.

However, I think appealing to more than the consumersí sense of pride in the U.S.-produced meat is a tactic that will reverberate.  It starts with the fact that there are U.S. ranchers and producers whose familiesí livelihoods depend on the purchase of the U.S.-labeled meat.  Explaining in a compelling fashion how they do what they do is an important marketing tactic.  But, there has to be more to overcome the cheaper price of the imported product.

The U.S.-produced meat product has to prove its worth.  If appealing to pride isnít enough, what is?  The way U.S. producers care for not just the animals but also the land, riparian areas and their familyís heritage and future is one.  The fact that the U.S. meat product is a wholesome and nutritious food is another.  And, there are many more.

As a U.S. meat industry, we canít abdicate our future to imports, even though some U.S. meat companies are affiliated with those who import.

I believe individual company voluntary COOL is a marketing strategy that needs to be extolled for the benefit of U.S. consumers and meat producers.

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