Whose Side are You On?

Country-of-origin labeling is still stirring up emotions about who is truly representing the cattle industry. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Dec 12, 2003

Mandatory country-of-origin labeling likely wasn't the most lobbied piece of legislation that hit Washington D.C. over the past couple of years, but it may be the one that agricultural interest groups are speaking out the most about. And like most controversies, both sides are trying their best to make their voice heard.

When it comes to the cattle industry, there are two big players that are speaking out. The first is the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) that claims the only way a labeling program can succeed is if it benefits producers' pocketbooks. The flip side of the country-of-origin coin is the voice of Ranchers-Cattlemen's Legal Action Fund (R-CALF) calling for immediate implementation.

The line up

NCBA has aligned with the American Meat Industry and the Food Marketing Institute to fight mandatory county-of-origin labeling (COOL). Although NCBA hasn't worked closely with Wal-Mart, the food-giant brought one of the biggest lobbying efforts to the COOL front.

On the other side R-CALF has teamed up with the National Farmers Union, Consumer Federation of America, the Sierra Club National Agriculture Committee among 165 others.

The latest accusations come from the side of NCBA, saying R-CALF has aligned themselves with environmental interest groups that don't have the best interests of the cattle industry at heart. Jay Truitt, NCBA executive director for legislative affairs, expressed his discontentment with fellow cattle association representatives at a R-CALF sponsored summit to address concerns with COOL.

Truitt also warned the group of extensive record keeping that the mandatory country of origin law would create. "The Sierra Club Ag Committee should be against the law, because it would require the killing of a lot of trees to implement it," Truitt says.

R-CALF: NCBA has missed the mark

Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF, says it is important as a cattle producer industry to partner with the final end consumers. "We have a responsibility to educate and inform consumer groups," he explains.

Truitt contends R-CALF hasn't aligned with consumer groups merely to further the implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling, but rather built coalitions to help them better understand how COOL supports cattle producers. "We have made significant progress with a wide variety of organizations that have never fully understood the needs and desires of cattle producers," Truitt says. "We may differ on other issues but in regard to COOL and concentration, we don't."