Trump can guarantee a win for farmers: country-of-origin labeling

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It is now or never for the Trump administration to decide whether it stands with American farmers and ranchers or just pays lip service to them for political cover as it caters to corporate agribusiness.

For the last year, my organization, Public Justice, has been fighting alongside America’s independent ranchers to restore country-of-origin labeling (also known as “COOL”) on beef and pork. Under an incoherent set of regulations, while everything from luggage to nuts must tell consumers its country of origin, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) allows imported beef and pork to be passed off as “Products of the USA.” This enables multinational agribusinesses to import the cheapest product possible and then dupe consumers, harming the independent American farmer and rancher.

{mosads}On Tuesday, a federal district court declared that USDA’s policy is truly injuring American ranchers. Rejecting the Department of Justice’s claim that there was no way to tell if mislabeled meat drives down the price agribusiness pays for cattle, the court held ranchers’ testimony, supported by an academic study, established that without COOL U.S. ranchers are paid less for their cattle. The absence of COOL is one more thing domestic ranchers must fight against in their constant struggle to make ends meet.


However, the court said it couldn’t do anything to aid ranchers; that, the court insisted, requires executive or legislative action. In fact, the court highlighted two ways that the president can use his authority right now to place ranchers and hog farmers on an even playing field with all other agricultural products.

  • He can issue an executive order requiring USDA to immediately demand COOL on imported beef and pork. The court explained that while current regulations comply with the law so the court couldn’t force USDA to act, the statute does allow USDA to do more.
  • He can make country-of-origin labeling part of any revisions to NAFTA. The only reason country-of-origin labeling does not exist on beef and pork today is that Canada and Mexico sued to protect their beef and pork industries, which would suffer if U.S. consumers knew they were not getting actual U.S.-produced beef. If we are going to renegotiate NAFTA so it better protects U.S. workers and jobs, what better place to start than making sure people know if they are purchasing U.S. goods?

These are common sense solutions that cross every conceivable political divide. When the NAFTA renegotiations began, Public Justice worked with farmer and consumer groups — such as Farm Aid, the Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America, and Food & Water Watch — to deliver nearly 40,000 signatures to the Department of Commerce asking that country-of-origin labeling be reinstated for beef and pork.

Tomi Lahren, the niece of an American rancher, has used her airtime on Fox News to explain that even if you disagree with this administration regarding its views on borders (we at Public Justice sure do), this is one issue everyone can support because transparency in our food system is essential.

Restoring COOL was once part of President Trump’s policy agenda. However, Trump’s agricultural team has consistently been dominated by corporate agribusiness-representatives who make their fortune exploiting legal loopholes and ranchers’ labor to profit by using the image of the American rancher without concern for those individuals. His agribusiness advisers stopped Trump from moving forward on COOL.

Yet, we constantly hear that in this second year of the administration Trump is pulling back control from advisers that were forced upon him.

So, it is time for the Trump White House and USDA to show their true values. Are they for clear, accurate labeling on meat that will help American farmers and ranchers, or is lining the pockets of multinational agribusinesses more important?

David Muraskin is the Food Project attorney at Public Justice, a national public interest law firm that pursues high-impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses.

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