Meat industry to enhance country of origin labeling

Where livestock was born, raised, slaughtered must now be included

Los Angeles TimesNovember 22, 2013 

— The meat industry is a global business, but many consumers don’t realize how far their hamburger may have traveled to end up on their plates.

New federal labeling rules set to take effect Saturday will illuminate that process by requiring meatpackers to list where livestock was born, raised and slaughtered. That’s a step up from the current law, which only requires labeling country of origin.

The new rules update a law known as country-of-origin labeling (COOL) and are being applauded by consumer advocates and some U.S. beef ranchers who see the regulations as a victory for food safety and domestic sales.

Major meatpackers such as Cargill Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. oppose the law as wasteful and costly. They argue that the U.S. already has rules in place to enforce food safety and fear the law will unfairly shrink demand for imported meat.

The USDA estimates that compliance will cost the meat industry between $53.1 million and $192.1 million.

Included in those costs will be the elimination of commingling – the farming of livestock from different countries, which created efficiencies for meatpackers. Livestock will now have to be separated according to origin, which will require new infrastructure for the meat industry.

“The costs associated with this new inefficient process will drive some processors dependent on imports out of business and destroy the market for meat from imported livestock,” the American Meat Institute said in a complaint against the USDA that argued the law compelled speech, a violation of First Amendment rights.

The suit filed in a U.S. District Court in Washington aimed to block the rules from taking effect but was denied by a judge. The ruling has since been appealed.

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