Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Friday announced the formation of a bipartisan coalition calling on the USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative to work with consumers, ranchers and meatpackers to make sure that American families know where their meat comes from.
The call-to-action stems from a recent World Trade Organization decision requiring the USDA to adjust its U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling rules, which mandate that American retailers clearly label where meat was raised and processed.
The WTO said that while the U.S. can require meat labeling, the current rules do not meet WTO standards. In December, it issued a May 23, 2013 deadline for U.S. compliance with WTO regulations.
With talks continuing about COOL compliance, the Senators, who were joined by 28 colleagues from both sides of the aisle, want to make sure the updated rules still ensure consumers know the origin of their food, giving them the option to buy American meat if they choose.
"Congress intended that COOL provide as much information as possible about the origin of all meat cuts to consumers," the Senators wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. "Some flexibility is needed, but such flexibility cannot come at the expense of providing reliable information to families about the national origin of meat products."
The bipartisan coalition also said that the USDA should host a public comment period to allow agriculture workers and consumers to weigh in on any new proposals.
The Senators' letter is backed by the National Farmers Union. "Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from and U.S. farmers and ranchers want to be able to tell them," said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. "USDA and USTR should take even stronger regulatory actions to make sure that COOL provides meaningful information about the origins of meat and other products."
Letter signatories include: John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Ben Cardin, D-Md., Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Al Franken, D-Minn., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Carl Levin, D-Mich., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Jon Tester, D-Mont., John Thune, R-S.D., Tom Udall, D-N.M., David Vitter, R-La., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Click here to read the bipartisan letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.