Bill on consumer information about beef origins dies in house committee


Reed Kelley, The Herald Times (CO)

April 18, 2017


RBC | Since Congress repealed mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) on beef and pork in December 2015, retail sellers have not been required to identify the country of origin of any of their beef or pork offerings. Some 20 percent of U.S. beef consumption today is imported. Mandatory COOL was first established in the 2002 Farm Bill. Congress felt obligated to remove the requirement in late 2015 because the World Trade Organization (WTO), of which the U.S. is a party through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), authorized Canada and Mexico to levy retaliatory tariffs on any U.S. exports beyond beef and pork to such items as fruit and wine. All this is one reason President Trump continually refers to NAFTA, among other trade agreements, as “bad deals.”


State Representative Kimmi Lewis (R-La Junta) and State Senator Vicki Marble (R-Ft. Collins) sought to correct this deficit for Colorado consumers by introducing House Bill 17-1234 in the state legislature last month. The bill would require retailers to post signs next to any display of fresh beef indicating whether or not that beef is a product of the USA or if it is imported. If imported, the sign would indicate from which countries the beef came. The bill was heard in the house agriculture, natural resources and livestock committee on April 3. The Colorado Pork Producers Council turned down Rep. Lewis’ offer to include pork in the bill.


Rep. Lewis is the only livelihood-dependent agricultural producer on the house Ag Committee. She runs a cattle operation on 17,500 acres near Kim, Colo., in Las Animas County. Lewis received encouragement on the bill and “late bill” status from House Speaker Crisanta Duran (D-Denver).


“After all that,” Lewis told the Herald Times, “I was quite dismayed the Democrats strategized to kill my bill in committee.” The committee vote last Monday was 6-7 on a motion to move it out of committee with one Democrat voting for the bill and one Republican voting against it.


Advocates for the bill included the Colorado Independent Cattlegrowers Association (CICA), Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Western Colorado Congress, Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), Natural Grocers/Vitamin Cottage, and more than 30 individual cattle producers and consumers who were at the committee in person or spoke from one of the five sites set up around the state for remote testimony. All of the supporters believed that having identifiable USA beef in grocery stores would increase demand for USA beef and make customers who want to know where their beef is from a lot happier.


Opponents to the bill included outfits with a lot of lobbyist firepower such as the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), Colorado Livestock Association (CLA), Colorado Farm Bureau (CFB), Colorado Retail Council (CRC), and Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association (RMFIA). These groups typically depend on Republicans to get their way, but this time it was the Democrats that supported their arguments.


The food industry group argued that while they supported a national COOL requirement, they do not support a stand-alone state requirement since a patchwork of differing state requirements would be too confusing in the supply chain. Mary Lou Chapman, representing RMFIA, also presented a letter of opposition from the North American Meat Institute. Reflecting on the letter, she suggested Colorado would be begging for a lawsuit if the bill passed, as it would be contrary to the federal Meat Inspection Act.


A couple other testifiers...