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Consumers won’t know meat origin after U.S. ends labeling law

  • Meat labels are seen at a grocery store in Washington in May 2015. After more than a decade of wrangling, Congress repealed a meat labeling law last month that required retailers to include the animals country of origin on packages of pork and beef. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON » It’s now harder to find out where your beef or pork was born, raised and slaughtered.

After more than a decade of wrangling, Congress repealed a labeling law last month that required retailers to include the animal’s country of origin on packages of red meat. It’s a major victory for the meat industry, which had fought the law in Congress and the courts since the early 2000s.

Lawmakers said they had no choice but to get rid of the labels after the World Trade Organization repeatedly ruled against them. The WTO recently authorized Canada and Mexico, which had challenged the law, to begin more than $1 billion in economic retaliation against the United States.

“U.S. exporters can now breathe a sigh of relief,” said Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. The longtime opponent of the labels helped add the repeal to a massive year-end spending bill. After the law was passed, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the government immediately would stop requiring the labels.

Consumer groups say the repeal is a disappointment just as consumers are asking for more information on their food packages. Advocates say the labels help people make more informed buying decisions and encourage purchases of American meat.

Before repeal, the labels told shoppers that a particular cut of meat was “born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.” Congress first required the labels in 2002 amid fears of mad cow disease from imported cattle. The labels weren’t on most packages until 2009, though, due to delays pushed by the meat industry.

Repeal became inevitable once the United States lost all its WTO appeals and the retaliation became a possibility. But the consumer groups criticized Congress for repealing the law for ground meat and pork in addition to the fresh cuts of meat that were the subject of WTO concerns.

The bill was “a holiday gift to the meatpacking industry from Congress,” complained the advocacy group Food and Water Watch. Meatpackers who buy Mexican cattle were some of the law’s most aggressive opponents.

The repeal also was a big defeat for lawmakers from northern border states where U.S. ranchers directly compete with Canadian ranchers. Those lawmakers insisted on including the labeling in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills and this year fought to replace it with a voluntary program once the WTO rulings came down. But after years of success, this time they were not able to find enough support.

Roger Johnson of the National Farmers Union, which has heavy membership in those states, said the group was “furious” about the repeal.

“Packers will be able to once again deliberately deceive consumers,” Johnson said.

Still, there was some good news for food labeling advocates in the spending bill. Despite an aggressive push by the food industry, lawmakers decided not to add language that would have blocked mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients. Also, a provision by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would require labeling of genetically modified salmon recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The issue is expected to come up again in 2016, with Vermont set to require labeling on genetically modified food this summer.

The day the spending bill passed, Vilsack said he would try to help Congress come up with a middle ground on labeling of engineered foods “in a way that doesn’t create significant market disruption, while at the same time recognizing consumers’ need to know and right to know basic information.”

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  • What is best for the country? Stop labeling like meat industry wants so they can export more and import more and increase profits? Or keep labeling like small farmers want and consumers want so we can buy USA meat or local meat?

    • I guess if the meat producers in the USA want to label their product, it should be ok. It’ll let us consumers know that it is good USA meats. The ones that don’t have labeling, we can assume is imported stuff. One would think if you got good stuff then you would want it to be known. Was shopping at Don Q’s this past week and they had some sample Waggyu Beef. Dang it was plain cooked with no seasoning and it was soft and tasty. At $80 a lb. I can only afford the free sample!
      Let the consumers decide what they want to eat.

  • If mandatory labeling is not the law then it creates an opportunity for some companies to do labeling and increase their market share by giving consumers what they want. It is sad that our elected politicians seem to have a for sale sign that they drag around with them. I do not feel that majority opinions of the general public are being represented these days.

  • It’s pretty simple, if my retailing doesn’t tell me where it’s from, I won’t buy it. This doesn’t require State mandate just sharper consumers.

  • And I thought “Origin” meant type of animal… Maybe that’s next. Thanks FDA. Another big business purchase. 🙁 And republicans thought Clinton was a democrat pushing through NAFTA. Ha! Guess again.

  • Congress is a disgrace. They wonder why non politicians are leading polls these days. Keep ignoring the public’s wishes and your days in office are numbered

    • Unfortunately, many, many people just keep on voting for the same bums. In every state. Look at ours, in Hawaii we vote for the incumbents 95% of the time. They really have to screw up, like Abercrombie, to get voted out. And then we the people vote in Ige, a career politician with the brain of a pigeon. They joke’s on us folks. Vote all incumbents out!

    • This is obama’s trans pacific partnership. I don’t see his name anywhere on this story. This is the TPP. We will find out why this law was hidden from the public
      Why is origin important? Remember mad cow disease. Ground beef will be coming out of Mexico and South America .This is death of american sovereign law. Obama hates america. He and his friends have made this country unrecognizable.

    • This has nothing do with political parties. the article state that this was done to appease other countries who want to impose economic sanctions of up to a $1 billion on USA. The World Trade Organization has or is about to allow the sanctions.
      It’s a simple fix. the USA beef industry just need to label their products and we’ll know it was raised and processed here. Buy USA!

  • So the Republicans hate Main Street that bad, that are willing to put us danger just to save from taxing their Wall Street friends? I got the solution to this mess that will affect WS. Don’t eat meat unless it is grown within the state that you reside in.

  • Just made it easier for the countries that have mad cow disease tainted meat to get rid of their product. Thanks government for watching out for the common folks. Sold out to the highest paying lobbyist. That’s okay because everyone has the best medical care under ACA. Can’t donate blood if you’ve ever been to a country that had mad cow disease. I need to start raising my own cattle.

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