By Steve Cornett
The headline on yesterday's Fort Bend paper gives us a glimpse into a possible future headline for beef:
U.S. Jalapenos Safe To Eat, FDA Now Says, But Not Those Grown In Mexico
You noticed that the tomato and chile businesses have just finished a food safety nightmare, and it was precisely because FDA couldn’t find the source of a few bad apples, er, jalapenos, and thus chose to warn us against anything that might be the source of salmonella.
All you NAIS haters out there may not like it, but traceability is going to be more and more important—and not because people are clamoring for “grown in the USA” labels. Because it will allow the food police to trace problems to their source.
To the extent COOL will facilitate that effort, we’ll have a less free, but arguably safer, world. If USDA can use the paper trail associated with COOL back to the source of an e. coli problem, they can do two things: One, eliminate the problem; and Two, clear the innocent. Let them eat tomatoes from anywhere, or belly burners from the U.S., but stop the Mexican jalapenos.
At least that’s what one would hope. Have you tried to make your way through that regulation?
I’ve been looking for people who could help me with a short cut to understanding what they say, without much luck. As one association fellow put it, “we were surprised they didn’t put out a press release or synopsis or something. But when we saw (the order) we realized they didn’t want to read it, either.”
It looks like USDA has reduced the paperwork burden some, but they didn’t’ go for the COOLsters’ argument that anything that wasn’t branded with an M or C could be called U.S. origin.
They will allow affidavits as evidence of U.S. origin, but you’ll have to keep records on every animal you ship, and everybody who owns him later will have to keep copies of your papers. That could be a bit of a paperwork burden for, say, auctions or feedyards that handle thousands of cattle from different sources, but the auction movement was a big supporter of COOL, so they at least won’t mind.
A lot of people don’t think the U.S. label will add much value. Still others—the same sort of folks who brag on driving domestic cars and not shopping at WalMart because they import stuff—are convinced consumers will be happy to spend extra to get U.S. product.
The packers should love this. Sure, they’ll have extra expense segregating cattle and beef, but it looks like the law will also create a paper trail all the way back to cow calf producers. So if they want to find out where a certain genetically unique coli bacterium came from, they can just follow it back down the line.
That will be bad for me if my cows are the source of the offending product, but good for you and thousands more if they can say
U.S. Beef Safe To Eat, FDA Now Says, But Not Steve’s.
COOL will not add much value to U.S. beef. The stuff is too generic. Some is great, some is not so great. But moving further down the line of traceability—and, yes, accountability—there’s your value. And your medicine.