2004 -- CropChoice news -- Washington Post:
The nation's first reported case of mad cow disease
has pumped new life into congressional efforts to require
country-of-origin labeling of beef and other foods.
It also could complicate passage of a spending bill
for most federal agencies when Congress reconvenes in
the Action Center:
COOL in '04
Act before January
20! COOL was just a few weeks
ago thought to be, well, on ice, but thanks
(we like to look for the silver lining around
here) to a sick cow in Washington, COOL is
back on the table and this time we have people's
Lawmakers in 2001 ordered such labeling to begin this October. But a provision
in the pending $328 billion "omnibus spending bill,"
inserted at the urging of meatpackers, pork producers
and grocery chains, would delay the labeling for two
years. Those groups say the proposed regulations would
be burdensome and would not ensure a safer food supply.
But consumer groups, allied with many U.S. ranchers
and cattlemen, want the labeling to begin on schedule.
These ranchers say domestic and foreign consumers want
beef from cattle that are born, raised and slaughtered
in the United States, where food-safety standards are
Both sides say last month's discovery of a diseased
cow in Washington state has renewed interest in the
issue. Federal officials said yesterday that genetic
testing confirmed the cow was born in Canada.
"The issue of mad cow disease has really shined
a spotlight on this [labeling] issue," said Sen.
Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Democratic
Policy Committee and a strong advocate of country-of-origin
labeling. "It provides some real propellant as
a major consumer issue that it did not have before."
Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.),
who helped lead the fight for labeling rules, plans
to call on the Bush administration today to take immediate
action to implement the requirements. In conversations
with about 20 colleagues so far, he said in an interview,
he explored the idea of delaying passage of the spending
bill to pursue a commitment from the administration
to implement the labeling rules. Many senators appeared
to favor the idea, Daschle said.
"With the mad cow problem, we cannot wait two
years to find out where our meat comes from," he
The labeling issue is emerging as a problem for Senate
GOP leaders, who plan to bring up the huge spending
bill for a test vote when Congress convenes Jan. 20.
The House passed the bill in December, but Senate Democrats
blocked it, hoping to force reconsideration of several
provisions, including new overtime and media consolidation
rules. In its current form, the bill can be passed or
blocked but not amended.
It is unclear whether Senate Democrats will try to
block a vote or delay passage. The bill funds most nonmilitary
agencies and departments through September. It also
contains billions of dollars for favored programs and
Democratic aides said that even if the omnibus bill
is approved, a provision ordering the Agriculture Department
to implement the labeling requirement on schedule could
be attached to other legislation.
The main sponsor of the provision to delay the labeling
is Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Tex.), whose state is home
to huge cattle feedlots that fatten some imported animals.
His provision was deleted in the Senate, where labeling
has bipartisan support from Midwest and Great Plains
cattle-raising states. The Senate approved a separate
resolution endorsing the labeling.
But GOP House-Senate negotiators agreed to delay the
labeling of most agricultural products, except farm-raised
and wild fish, for two years. That language is now part
of the omnibus spending bill.
"We don't believe this is just a matter of delaying
the regulations, but rather an attempt to kill country-of-origin
labeling," said Trent Thomas, legislative director
for R-CALF USA, which represents ranchers and small
Livestock groups, however, appear divided. Many state
livestock organizations endorse labeling as a boon to
marketing U.S. beef products at home and abroad.
But the National Cattlemen's Beef Association supports
the two-year delay. The group represents mostly cattlemen,
but its "product council" includes meatpackers
and retailers. The meat industry is particularly concerned
about labeling requirements for hamburger, which often
mixes meat from animals from several countries.
Bryan Dierlam, legislative director of the National
Cattlemen's Beef Association, questioned whether the
proposed rules would promote a safer food supply. Restaurants,
he noted, would not be required to identify the source
of their beef.
"The regulatory system should be based on sound
science, not just raw emotion," he said.
Carol Tucker Foreman, director of food policy for the
Consumer Federation of America, said the mad cow incident
was only one of several recent ones that have given
an impetus to going forward with the labeling requirements.
She cited imports of contaminated cantaloupes and scallions
implicated in an outbreak of hepatitis A.