NCBA's Ethan Lane on the Goals for Labeling U.S. Beef
Oklahoma Farm Report
06 Feb 2020
Radio Oklahoma Farm Director Ron Hays is in San Antonio and covering the event where he had the opportunity to visit with Ethan Lane from the Washington NCBA office to talk about what's being labeled as U.S. Beef, "Well, it's a complicated issue and obviously when mCOOL was vacated; what was left was a marketing structure that's overseen by FSIS that really isn't food safety related. It's this product of the USA label authority. FSIS basically says if it passes through an FSIS inspected facility, it qualifies as a product of the United States. Voluntary labels can be applied that say product of the United States, produced in the United States, processed in the United States. There's a variety that falls into that scope. We had some of our affiliates from around the country bring this to our attention in the summer as an issue they're concerned with. We've seen some other groups take a different approach. They want to see that product of the USA label, be mandatory, born, raised, and harvested. Our problem with that is, that would be a backdoor to mCOOL. That would create the segregation that our trading partners in Mexico and Canada, were successful in the WTO in suing us on, four times we lost on that issue. So we're trying to thread that needle and find some common ground there. What we found in our working group is, we agree we're uncomfortable with the way that label is being applied. Still, we want to make sure that we stay in a voluntary spot, and we want to make sure that, where there is an origin claim being made, that claim is verified.
We think that authority already exists, through AMS's PVP programs, you know they're not as utilized as they should be. Although there is an extensive list of folks that are already using them, it has that verification and audibility that folks are looking for. And it actually speaks to what we think consumers are responding to more, which is a more regional or local source verification. Product of the USA doesn't mean as much to them as you know a product of the Shenandoah Valley, or product of Oklahoma, or California sun fed beef. I mean, it's a marketing program, and you want to be able to target those audiences, and we know our consumers are looking for local products, they want to know that it was grown down the road. So we think there's a tremendous amount of opportunity there if we can close this back gate, where these labels are being applied at the retail level that maybe aren't quite as clear as they need to be about what's in the package. So we're working on some language to provide some clarity on that front, we're working with USDA, we're working with the rest of the value chain. That's the directive that Executive Committee here at NCBA has given us as staff, is Hey, talk to the rest of the chain, let's figure out how to make this work and let's make sure we protect our producer."
Lane says it's not always the packers or processors that apply that label, but the label can also be applied at the retail level, "It could be happening at the retail level too. So I think what we have found through this process, and this is something we keep coming back to, nobody's doing anything wrong here. This is an authority that's probably a little too vague for the way we do business in this industry now. So what we're really talking about is how do we refine it. If you're putting effort into that product and you're creating something, if you're making sausage, and you're putting all those things in there, and you're creating a legitimate product of United States, you need to be able to take credit for that. You need to be able to label your packages accordingly.
We want to stay out of the WTO...
more, including audio [6:44 min.]