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Montana Farmers Union is a longtime supporter of country-of-origin labeling (COOL). MFU and National Farmers Union fought for years to label meat, both to give consumers a choice at the meat counter, and to aid U.S. producers, because when given the choice, consumers in this country will buy U.S. beef and not think twice.

The meat-packing industry has always fought against COOL, stating that consumers didn’t really need to know what country their meat came from. However, we finally prevailed and a federal COOL law went into effect in 2013, but COOL was repealed for beef and pork by Congress during negotiations with the World Trade Organization.

Here’s the thing: those meat-packing companies, the ones who always said COOL was an impossible, over-bearing regulation, never stopped labeling meat when the law was repealed! But the law was gone, and replaced by a rule that basically says any meat product that comes into a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected processing facility and undergoes a change in its structure can be labeled “Product of the USA.”

The key word here is "any." A box or side of beef cutouts from Brazil, Australia, Mexico or elsewhere can come into the country, be processed into chuck roasts, rib steaks, sirloins, etc., and be labeled “Product of the USA.” They’ve taken all the work that those in the industry did on behalf of U.S. producers and consumers, and basically turned it into a method to mislead consumers.

Senate Bill 206, with amendments recommended by MFU, would require COOL placarding for beef and pork at Montana retail stores. MFU stands in support of this bill with these amendments stressing that the consumer’s knowledge of the origin of the meat is the key to transparency. Tell your legislator to support country-of-origin labeling because the consumers of Montana deserve to know where their food comes from and our producers deserve a fair market for their product.

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Alan Merrill is president of the Montana Farmers Union and its board of directors. He writes on behalf of the board. 

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