New AMS Proposed Rule for COOL Drives Meat Industry Mad

By Barbara J. Masters, D.V.M.

While most people are filling out their brackets for March Madness®, producers of muscle cuts of meat are dealing with a different type of “March Madness.”  On March 12, 2013, in response to a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling that the current U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements for muscle cut meat discriminate against Canadian and Mexican imports and that the U.S. must rectify this by May 23, 2013, the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) published a proposed rule to amend its COOL regulations.  Unfortunately, not only is the industry unclear how the proposed rule would comply with the WTO ruling, but the industry is extremely concerned that the proposed rule would only make the labeling requirements for the meat industry even more burdensome and costly.

Under the proposed rule, producers of muscle cuts of meat would have to identify on their labels the country or countries where each production step occurs, including that of birth, raising, and slaughter of the animal for which the muscle cut was derived.  This would be required for meat from all countries including the United States.  For example, a muscle cut of meat that is from an animal born, raised and slaughtered in the United States would have to be labeled as, “Born, Raised and Slaughtered in the U.S,” as opposed to the current labeling requirement of, “Product of the U.S.”  This change alone could be extremely costly to U.S. producers.

Another costly and burdensome requirement of the proposal would be to eliminate any commingling of the muscle cut commodities originating from different countries that is currently allowed under the regulations.  For example, a label today can bear a country of origin statement such as, “Product of the United States, Country X and Country Y.”  However, this designation would not be permitted under the proposal, as the label would be required to specify where the animal from which the muscle cut was derived was born, raised and slaughtered, and this would not be possible if commingling occurred.

In addition to the example provided above for animals born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S., other examples of labels based on the proposal would include:

  • For animals born in another country and raised and slaughtered in the United States, the label would be modified from, “Product of the U.S. and Country X” to “Born in Country X, Raised and Slaughtered in the U.S.”
  • For animals imported for immediate slaughter, the labels would be modified from “Product of Country Y, Slaughtered in the U.S.” to “Born and Raised in Country Y, Slaughtered in the U.S.”

The economic impact of the proposed COOL requirements would undoubtedly be significant to the meat industry.  AMS estimates that the label changes alone could cost the industry between $16,989,000 to $47,326,500.  However, this may only be a fraction of the cost, as the agency has not taken into consideration the impracticality and cost of segregating animals of different origins at slaughter in order to comply with the proposed labeling requirements.  Comments, including projected costs, are being requested and must be received no later than April 11, 2013.