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MT ranchers call out lack of labeling in USMCA


Big Sky Connection

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 Eric Tegethoff


January 13, 2020
BILLINGS, Montana -- Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are nearing approval of a deal to replace NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, but ranchers say it's missing a key piece: country-of-origin labeling, known as COOL.


The current system allows importers of beef to put "Product of the U.S." stickers on their meat, including beef from other countries that is only minimally processed in the U.S.


Steve Charter is a rancher near Billings and member of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group. He says this loophole hurts folks like him.


"It should be honest," he states. "We should know where it comes from. And so it's an unfair market for producers and also consumers."


Opponents of COOL say it is too costly for packers. The Senate Finance Committee approved the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement last week, moving it closer to a full Senate vote.


Ranching and farming groups across the country say the lack of COOL in the bill is a missed opportunity.


Charter says 85% of the beef market is controlled by four large packing corporations, two of which are international companies.


He says ranchers have lost their market power in their relationship with packers.


"Most producers are kind of at the end of their rope as far as being able to keep it going, and it's not because meat prices aren't high enough to support everyone," he states. "It's just that these big companies have been able to take all the profit."


Charter says COOL gives consumers the chance to choose American beef. He maintains most consumers would pick products born, raised and harvested in the U.S. if they knew which they were.

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