Your Summer Barbecue Is Less American Than You Think. Senator Mike Rounds Wants To Do Something About It.

Your Summer Barbecue Is Less American Than You Think. Senator Mike Rounds Wants To Do Something About It.

The steaks and hamburgers you put onto your grill this summer are less American than one might think.  In fact, the U.S. imports almost as much beef as it exports as global meatpackers continue to turn to imported beef, based on USDA data year-to-date.

Over the years, beginning in California, the farm-to-table trend took off among a segment of the population that tended to be highly food-conscious. They wanted seasonal, locally grown food. They wanted to know their farmer. They wanted to see the animals roaming in the fields and know they were well taken care of. There is a market for this type of consumer. While price points may dictate ultimate shopping habits at the grocery store, labeling American grown and raised will be as likely to attract buyers as those who buy organic whenever they can, or prefer grass-fed beef and free-range chicken eggs.

Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) said on June 18 that he will push to include mandatory country of origin labeling (or MCOOL) for beef in the 2024 Farm Bill.  He’s circulating a letter urging his colleagues to join by June 24.  Producers from South Dakota have expressed strong support for including a MCOOL solution in the Farm Bill, up for renewal in September. 

“It is past time to reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling for beef,” said Sen. Rounds in a statement on June 18. “U.S. farmers and ranchers deserve to have their beef differentiated from foreign-made products. Consumers want to be able to purchase beef born, raised and processed in the United States without wondering if it’s secretly coming from a foreign country.”

In his letter to the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Rounds wrote:

“For almost a century, U.S. trade law has required the majority of imported products to bear a country of origin label. Americans recognize the clear benefits of consumer labeling laws and regularly use this information when making important purchasing decisions. Yet as you know, a number of agricultural commodities have been excluded from country of origin labeling requirements. Without a reasonable solution to the MCOOL question, American ranchers will continue to be put at a disadvantage. It is our hope Congress will use the Farm Bill to address this pressing issue.”

Country of origin labeling was implemented 22 years ago. Back then, a broad coalition of producer and consumer groups worked to incorporate retail-level MCOOL in the 2002 Farm Bill.

Farm state Senators say they want open markets for agriculture. They got six of them under Biden. But does it mean more exports? See here.

Following the successful implementation of MCOOL, producers and consumers enjoyed a short-lived period of marketplace transparency until a group of multinational meatpacking companies worked to repeal it. Exporters from Canada and Mexico filed a dispute with the World Trade Organization and then Congress officially rescinded the law in 2015.

A majority of products imported into the United States have to disclose the item’s country of origin to the consumer. Currently, country-of-origin labeling laws apply to agricultural food products like lamb, goat, chicken, venison, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng.

The U.S. imported 1.52 million pounds of beef and veal between January and April 2024 versus 1.25 million pounds in the same period last year.  The U.S. exported 992.3 thousand pounds of beef and veal over the same period. The U.S. is also a net importer of live cattle. From January to April 2024, the U.S. imported 762.4 thousand heads of cattle and exported just 116.08 thousand, based on USDA’s Economic Research Service data.


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