WEIDMAN, MI -- Consumer concern over knowing the origin of the food we are eating led to the passage of a popular labeling law known as Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) in 2008, a law that is now in danger of being struck down, warns Michigan Farmers Union President Bob Thompson in a recent Lansing State Journal op-ed.
"European consumers were furious several years ago when they found out that the 'beef' they were purchasing at the local supermarkets was instead imported and mislabeled horsemeat," explains Thompson. "Europe, and many other parts of the world, lacked labeling laws that protected consumers from unscrupulous merchants and companies." Thompson notes that to prevent problems like this from occurring in the U.S., Congress passed COOL, a law that says that muscle cuts of meat, and some fruits and vegetables, must be labeled with the country's name where the product was produced. "Simple and straightforward,' he notes. "It's hard to imagine any such commonsense labeling law being opposed, right?" Unfortunately, the popular labeling law has sustained a multi-year and multi-million dollar attack led domestically by the multinational meat packers and internationally by our chief trade competitors – Canada and Mexico. The attack just led to the repeal of COOL in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now the fate of COOL is in the hands of the U.S. Senate.
"COOL is extremely popular throughout the nation and here in Michigan, with both consumers and producers. It's a good law because consumers want to know the origin of their food and America's farmers and ranchers are happy to provide that information," notes Thompson.
"According to a May 2013 poll, COOL scores consistently strong marks with the nation's consumers, with 90 percent registering support for the labeling law."
Thompson notes that COOL is a good law because it's just common sense that consumers want to know as much as possible about what they are putting into their mouths, and the mouths of their children. And since nearly everything in our daily lives is labeled, from our coat to our appliances and automotive parts, it just makes good sense that food should be too.
"Some consumers want to eat locally, purchasing Michigan cherries or sweet corn, while others might not care if their food comes from Dexter, Michigan or Jakarta, Indonesia," he explains. "But whatever their preference, the point is that the product needs to be labeled in order for them to make that distinction."
"Thankfully, Michigan's Debbie Stabenow (D) – a longtime advocate for both consumers and farmers – has introduced a bill that, if enacted, should resolve the dispute at the WTO," Thompson notes. "The bill would make COOL voluntary for beef and pork and should appease the WTO," he notes. "And while Michigan Farmers Union has fought for mandatory labeling for years, this bill would advance the current stalemate and ensure that food labeling remains on the books."
"When I sit down to a meal with my family, l want to know that we're eating beef and not Mr. Ed. And I think most Americans share my sentiments. Tell your Congressman to support the voluntary labeling compromise. And tell Senator Stabenow good job!"