(GREAT FALLS) Montana is well known for its beef industry, and there’s new federal legislation being pushed to reinstate Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) so consumers can know exactly what they’re putting on their plates.
The American Beef Labeling Act would require the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in consultation with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, to develop a World Trade Organization-compliant means of reinstating COOL for beef within one year of enactment.
COOL exists for other products but there is a bipartisan group advocating for the beef industry to reinstate COOL so that consumers know exactly where their beef is from.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester of Montana spoke in Great Falls on Friday about how Montana and the beef industry go hand in hand, given that cows outnumber people in the state, and ranchers in the state supply high quality beef.
Tester said it’s more important than ever to give consumers what they need to know. He noted, "A few years ago, I couldn’t have come up here and say I have a bipartisan bill. Now I can. Bottom line is that we’ve got an opportunity I think better than we’ve had in the past to get this bill across the finish line and get it to the president’s desk. Montana beef is a cut above the rest and people should know where their meat is coming from.”
The Montana Farmers Union also advocates for COOL. MFU president Walter Schweitzer says corporate monopolies are hurting the industry by saving money on labeling by not giving actual origin and added that consumers should know exactly where and how their meat was processed.
Schweitzer said, “Brazil has now had three mad cows and these mad cows, if you eat that meat, you risk getting a very serious disease. So the consumer thinks they’re buying U.S. beef but they’re really buying Brazilian beef."
Here in Great Falls, Central Avenue Meats has been seeing a beef industry where prices have fluctuated slightly, but they stay busy and agree that COOL is something that will help customers with buying meat.
Owner Drew Hicks says there are several things the industry should work on, but agrees proper labeling will help more than just the industry: “We generally feel like it’s going to be first and foremost up to the customers to find out where their meat comes from and that’s going to be the only sure way to know that they’re buying local products. We’re just in favor of more transparency in that process, so that’s where I see that country-of-origin labeling increasing that transparency."
The beef industry is a large part of Montana, and with COOL, more people can have more information about the food they are buying.