OAKLAND, CA – The recent finding of a BSE-infected cow in Washington State has brought with it a renewed interest in Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), but this interest is sadly misplaced. Country of Origin Labeling is not an Animal Identification Program. It is not even a food safety program. COOL is a marketing program that has nothing to do with the BSE debate. 

According to last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) vowed to block the appropriations bill that includes a 2-year delay in the implementation of COOL. Despite Sen. Daschle’s remarks, the fact is that the COOL program outlined in the 2002 Farm Bill would not have prevented this one cow from Canada testing positive for BSE. COOL’s oversight falls under the purview of the Agricultural Marketing Service, not the Food Safety Inspection Service or Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Had COOL already been in effect the steps taken by the USDA after the cow tested positive would have been the same. That cow would still have had BSE, meat still would have been recalled and the industry would still be facing the same questions about “downer” cattle and testing procedures that it is facing now. COOL does not track the movement of cattle, only details the country or countries where it was born, raised and processed. COOL is not an answer for faster traceback, nor is it analogous to an animal ID program.

The truth is, the current law that mandates COOL prohibits the Secretary of Agriculture from developing an Animal Identification program in conjunction with COOL. It specifically states, “The Secretary shall not use a mandatory identification system to verify the country of origin of a covered commodity.” Currently the USDA is working on an actual animal identification program. The United States Animal Identification Plan is being developed as an industry-government partnership, because both sides are aware that the only way to develop a scientific and workable program is to work together. 

Debates about COOL and BSE will continue well beyond today or tomorrow, but they are separate debates. Confusing them will just make the USDA’s job even harder than it already is and undermine the credibility of those attempting to combine these two topics into one deceiving web. 

National Meat Association is a non-profit trade association. Since 1946, NMA has represented meat packers and processors, equipment manufacturers and food suppliers who provide services to the meat industry. The association has members throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Australia and Mexico.

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Jeremy Russell
National Meat Association
(510) 763-1533
[email protected]

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