By Jenna Rose Lee
Until just recently, all of the beef and pork sold in US grocery stores have had a COOL or “country-of-origin label.” This means we know exactly from which country we are purchasing our meat at the grocery store. The bill passed by Congress in 2002 was repealed and signed by President Obama on December 18,th 2015, as part of a larger omnibus spending bill. Due to this change, it is effective immediately that beef and pork are not required to have a COOL.
The original labeling bill was passed several years ago in an attempt to make American consumers more informed and aware of where their food was coming from. At the time, there was also great fear of the mad cow disease outbreak that could spread to the U.S. from imported cattle and meat. The new labeling on beef and pork was a big hit among consumers according to a study done in 2013 indicating that, “90 percent of Americans supported country-of-origin information on their meat products,” (takepart.com).
However, COOL has caused the Mexican and Canadian meat industry to dramatically decline. When buying meat, people tend to learn towards the meat produced in the U.S. and have become discriminant against meats grown elsewhere. With such negative backlash on the Mexican and Canadian meats, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has allowed for these two countries to impose a tariff of more than $1 billion on U.S. goods if the labels are not removed. This left congress with no choice but to repeal the bill, leaving meatpackers and northern ranchers happy, but the average consumer very upset. All meat still goes through rigorous USDA inspection before reaching the grocery store freezer, but many would say that eliminating the country of origin is similar to leaving out a key ingredient or at least a significant disclosure about what went into making the product.
When Cal Poly students were asked what they think about the recent changes to COOL, the responses were across the board. Angelica Aldana, an agricultural science junior, has mixed feelings.
“Economically, it is good, but I think it is important that we know where our food comes from,” Aldana said. “COOL adds a level of comfort.”
Haley Warner, a sophomore agricultural communication major, felt strongly about removing the COOL labels. Haley said, “As Americans, we have the safest food supply on the face of the planet. Our regulations with [the United States Department of Agriculture] are stricter than anywhere else,” Warner explained. “No matter where it comes from, it still has to have the USDA stamp of approval for us to be able to eat it. If it increases trade and improves American agriculture, then I will go ahead and trust the USDA regulations.”
COOL will likely continue to be a hot topic in Congress for years to come. We must weigh the pros and cons between knowledge of our food origin and economic effects on varying meat markets. For now, beef and pork will remain label free, and only time will tell how COOL will play a role in our future food system.