It has been seven years since U.S. Beef and the World Trade Organization battled it out over MCOOL, ending in tariffs and an eventual repeal of the label.
Current National Cattlemen's Beef Association policy is clear, members do not want mandatory country of origin labeling as the default system.
According to Ethan Lane, NCBA's VP of Government Affairs, "It was not successful in generating additional revenues for producers. It actually works against allowing producers to differentiate their products in the marketplace. We're doing so much work to expand regional processing capacity and provide additional opportunities for producers to regain some of that leverage in the negotiation with packers. This really disincentives that. Not to mention, we know that this is not a trade compliance solution."
Recently introduced MCOOL legislation could be trade compliance "if" it works right, but Lane is not optimistic.
"The legislation as written, simply says, USTR needs to make it trade compliant but it offers no solutions to accomplish that. And in fact, it goes even further and says that if they fail at that task, the law will just go into effect anyway," Lane states. "So, they're effectively saying they're okay with a billion dollars and retaliatory tariffs being leveraged, levied against the U.S. cattle and beef industry, and we're simply not okay with that."
Despite disagreeing on the strategy, Lane says that both NCBA and the lawmakers who introduced the bill have the same goal in mind.
"We want to achieve more product differentiation for U.S. Beef-- it's a superior product! And the way to do that is through creating source verified labels that allow producers to find a marketing strategy and a true marketing label that works best for what they're producing that allows them to reach consumers in a unique way that commands more value," he explains.
He also says that USDA has been working with the cattle industry over the past few months on a more comprehensive approach to improve cattle prices.
"We need more transparency in the cattle markets, we need more diversified regional packing capacity to offer more options for producers, both as far as buyers for their cattle and supply chains to feed into that perhaps meet a niche in the marketplace that consumers are responding to. And, we need a labelling system that really allows them to capitalize on those differences throughout the country," Lane adds.