Liberal, pro-regulatory South Dakotans will gather in Watertown Friday to protest President Barack Obama’s conservative, pro-corporate turn on food policy.
Perhaps I over-simplify with labels, but I wanted to see that sentence in print.
But seriously, the South Dakota Farmers Union is rallying tomorrow afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. at Belmont Park, right across the street to the west of the Watertown Civic Arena, where President Obama will speak at Lake Area Vo-Tech’s graduation ceremony. Farmers Union is alarmed that the President appears to be backing away from country-of-origin labeling, a policy that benefits South Dakota producers and consumers by providing the information we need to “Buy American” at the grocery store just as we can at the clothing store.
Senator Tim Johnson introduced COOL legislation in 2001. President Obama’s USDA strongly supported COOL early in the President’s first term. However, after two World Trade Organization rulings against COOL, the USDA seems to be surrendering on COOL. In anticipation of a WTO ruling on the U.S. appeal on COOL expected May 18, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack sent the Senate Agriculture Committee a letter suggesting Congress could respond by repealing COOL or approving a generic “made in North America” label to placate Canada and Mexico. USDA also issued an economic impact report last month reviewing past USDA economic analyses that contend COOL isn’t worth the economic effort:
…the economic benefits of implementing the COOL regulations would be insufficient to offset the costs of the requirements whether analyzing the impacts through economic models of beef, pork, and poultry industries or of the U.S. economy as a whole.
In terms of consumers, USDA’s regulatory impact analyses concluded that while there is evidence of consumer interest in COOL information, measurable economic benefits from mandatory COOL would be small. USDA’s regulatory impact analyses also found little evidence that consumers would be likely to increase their purchases of food items bearing U.S.-origin labels. Similarly, the Tonsor, Schroeder, and Parcell study concluded, after a review of consumer labeling theory and available academic research, that there was little to no evidence of a measurable increase in consumer demand for beef or pork as a result of COOL requirements [USDA Office of the Chief Economist, “Report to Congress: Economic Analysis of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL),” April 2015].
USDA says that over ten years, COOL would cost the U.S. beef industry $1.4 billion and cost the pork industry $310 million. Poultry growers, however, would gain $2.7 million.
However, USDA’s economic analysis, which is heavy with citations predating the current 2009 COOL law, ignores a recent study by Auburn University professor Robert Taylor that says the economic harms Canada and Mexico claim as the basis of their WTO complaint came not from COOL but from the Great Recession:
“Our study shows that COOL has not directly caused the declines in Canadian and Mexican livestock exports to the U.S., nor has it negatively affected the price paid for imported slaughter cattle relative to comparable domestic cattle,” Taylor says.
Instead, he says, “The implementation of COOL largely coincided with a substantial global economic downturn that basically sapped consumer demand for more expensive meat products, domestic and imported.”
He notes that currently, cattle trade has returned to its pre-recession levels [Jamie Creamer, “Keeping COOL?” Auburn University College of Agriculture, 2015.02.27].
Taylor also notes that the Canadians and Mexicans have based their complaint on proprietary data and corporate propaganda, rather like the USDA’s frequent citation in its April 2015 report of data from the American Meat Institute, a lobbying group for meat packers and processors.
The Obama Administration’s apparent retreat from COOL may also be part of a larger strategy to pave the way for the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would further limit food labeling and further put the anti-regulatory desires of global corporations ahead of the rights of consumers.
Dakota Rural Action and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association support country-of-origin labeling; expect them to join Farmers Union in Watertown tomorrow to try to get the President’s attention back on the rights of South Dakota meat eaters and meat makers.