Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) are calling on the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) and the U.S. Trade Representative to work with consumers, ranchers, and meatpackers as the agencies revise Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) rules.
The USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative are revising COOL rules in the wake of a recent World Trade Organization ruling that preserves consumers' rights to know the origin of the meat they buy, but requires adjustments to the requirements for suppliers. COOL currently requires retailers to clearly label where meat was born, raised, and processed - giving consumers the option to buy American-made meat if they choose.
Tester and Johnson say the agencies should include comments from local stakeholders as they work on rule changes.
"The overwhelming majority of Americans want to know the origin of the meat they feed their families," Tester and Johnson wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. "Americans should not be deprived of the information they demand by foreign special interests, and we urge you to work through an open and transparent process on any new changes."
Tester affirmed his support for COOL in March when he applauded the U.S. Trade Representative's protest of the World Trade Organization's original ruling. Tester, a strong voice for American sovereignty, argued that Montana ranchers produce the best beef in the world, and added that the ruling "denied consumers the right to know where their meat comes from."
Senator Johnson authored the law to create COOL and has worked tirelessly to promote the program. Johnson believes that COOL is not just a consumer right-to-know issue, but that it is a valuable marketing tool for ranchers and farmers.