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Options Limited in COOL Dispute

08:08AM Feb 07, 2015

Secretary Vilsack surprised at ranchers’ pushback of a second checkoff

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says USDA is running out of options on the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) dispute over beef.

“We either have to win the appeal or Congress has to change the law,” Vilsack told host Mike Adams during a Jan. 7 interview on “AgriTalk.”

“The Department of Agriculture is in a very difficult spot here,” Vilsack said on “AgriTalk.” “Congress has directed to us to create a labeling system that basically allows us to distinguish meat products that have been processed, produced and raised in the U.S. from those that have not. The reality is that the WTO, which we belong to, has said that if you require the segregation of animals, it creates an unreasonable competitive disadvantage for Mexican and Canadian producers.”

The U.S. appealed that decision this past fall and is now awaiting an answer.

Vilsack also discussed the controversial plan for a second beef checkoff, which was dropped in December. “It was fairly obvious the industry was not interested in having a second checkoff,” he said. “The only reason we proposed it was because I believe—and I think most of the industry believes—we need additional resources for promotion and research in the beef industry.”

Given the potential windfall, resistance to the proposal left Vilsack “puzzled,” he said. “There is a possibility of $80 million additional dollars into promotion and research at a time when it is sorely needed,” Vilsack said.

The question of whether small or large producers would benefit more from the proposed checkoff proved to be difficult to resolve. “The reality is, they both have opportunities here,” said Vilsack, who added the money could be used to develop overseas markets, but also local and regional markets here in the U.S. for smaller-scale producers.

Vilsack also touched on farm bill implementation and his ongoing commitments to grow U.S. agricultural exports. According to the Secretary, every dollar spent on trade promotion translates into $35 in export business.