When you walk into your local grocery store, and you look into the meat case, you will see labels about where your steak was born, raised and even processed. It is interesting information, but did you know that one label results in higher food prices and could end up costing northern Michigan jobs due to millions of dollars in retaliatory tariffs from Canada?
In 2002, Congress first adopted country-of-origin (COOL) labeling standards requirements for meat products. These rules require packages to indicate the country in which the meat was raised and processed. The mandated label was intended to provide consumers with information about the food they purchase, but the label has instead been the focus of frequent challenges.
This mandate caused Canada and Mexico, two of our largest trading partners, to challenge the United States in the World Trade Organization (WTO). On three separate occasions, the WTO has ruled against the United States, finding that COOL does not comply with current trade agreements between our country and theirs.
Because the WTO has consistently sided with Canada and Mexico on this issue, both countries have announced their intention to retaliate if the policy is not changed soon. Michigan is one of Canada's largest trading partners, and one of the biggest targets for retaliation.
How does this impact northern Michigan? Every year, our state exports over $1.2 billion in agricultural products to Canada. Canada has released a list of specific items it will be targeting, including apples, cherries, maple syrup, items containing iron and stainless steel, and office furniture. This means cherries grown in Traverse City, apples grown in Charlevoix, and iron ore from the Upper Peninsula will be negatively impacted. Any business on the list would be immediately subject to high tariffs, and could expect to see their exports drop.
In addition, COOL is directly impacting all of our pocketbooks. In a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it was found that those labels cost producers, packers, and retailers roughly $2.6 billion a year in the United States. These are costs that are passed on to you and me in the form of higher food prices.
Is the mandated label worth it? As both a physician and consumer, I expect a safe and traceable food supply. I enjoy seeing where my products are from. But that type of information should be a result of consumer demand, not a government mandate.
COOL regulations do nothing to protect the safety of our food supply. First off, no matter where our food comes from it should always be safe for people to consume. Additionally, in the digital age, products are tracked by SKU numbers and technology using radio frequency chips, not labels as to their country of origin.
It is time for Congress to act. As a member of the House Agricultural Committee, I will be working with my colleagues to revise the standards so that businesses and farmers are protected and all Michigan families have access to a safe, traceable food supply at prices that we can afford.