The COOL debate is far from over
For all of you who are frustrated by the amount of time, political capital and ink being spent on the marketing issues like country-of-origin labeling (COOL) and a ban on packer ownership of cattle, your desire to move onto issues that will have far more effect on the price received for cattle will have to wait.
In the big picture, these issues may be window dressing in terms of effect, but they remain huge in terms of political power and the battle over the vision of the industry and the role government should play.
The debate over COOL took an interesting turn last week in the Congress. A vote for the first time publicly signaled what both sides of the COOL debate have long felt; how, when, and even if COOL will be implemented is still somewhat up in the air.
The House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Bonilla (R-Texas) voted to withhold money from the USDA for the implementation of COOL until additional hearings could be held, stating that the costs and ramifications of the program need to be better understood before implementation is to begin. The vote was unanimous! Unanimous because, as former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local."
To fully understand why the subcommittee voted the way it did, it's necessary to know that Bonilla, as well other members, represent cattlemen in Texas who have been buying and trading cattle from Mexico for generations. Cattlemen along our southern border see COOL as a direct threat to their economic interests and a way of life they have known for over 200 years.
Perhaps just as significant as the debate was the response by the two sides of the issue. Opponents of COOL applauded the vote, hopeful that the legislation for the first time could be debated and considered. Of course the hope being this could result in the legislation's repeal or at least see significant changes to the law.
Proponents of COOL, such as the Livestock Marketing Association, saw this as a caving in by the committee to the interests of powerful ranchers, and the backgrounding, feeding, packing, wholesaling, and retailing segments that have been fighting the legislation. The full committee will take up the issue in a week or two.
Interestingly, the contradictions in the COOL debate continue to grow. Opponents found themselves claiming that COOL would not have helped in the Canadian BSE case, yet they argue that the law in fact requires individual ID and traceability throughout the system. Go figure.
Proponents, on the other hand, argued that the Canadian BSE case confirms the value of COOL and the need for traceability, while claiming that individual traceability is not required in the current legislation. You bet.
Another interesting view on COOL is coming from the National Pork Producers Association. Most NPPA members are adamantly against it because they believe it will add $10 to the cost of each pig, because of mandatory record keeping.
It seems to me that COOL should be voluntary, not mandated by law. If labeling really will increase sales of U.S. beef (something we all want) let's do it voluntarily and see what happens. If it works, and it just might, everyone will get on board and reap the profits proponents claim are out there.
Frank Rhinehart is a stocker operator near Phillipsburg, Mo. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.