Congress has been busy lately proposing new laws mandating that beef be labeled with the country of its origin, which could have a big impact on how supermarkets and other channels merchandise fresh beef products.

The most recent proposal comes from US Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), whose Beef Origin Labeling Accountability Act would, he said, bring clarity and reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef products.

“Consumers don’t know where their beef comes from. It could be South Dakota, Brazil, or Canada,” Johnson said. “US producers raise better beef, and they’re not getting the credit for it. My bill takes a step in the right direction to get accurate labels back on these products to increase consumer confidence in American-made and grown products.”

In 2023, Johnson’s Cattle Contract Library was implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase transparency in the market.

Two years before that, Johnson successfully secured a pilot program to supply grants to small cattle processors to expand competition in the packing industry.

In 2008, the Farm Bill implemented MCOOL and labeling for beef products derived from cattle born, raised, and harvested in the US.

Canada and Mexico quickly filed a dispute with the World Trade Organization, claiming it violated WTO agreements. The US lost multiple appeals to WTO rulings against MCOOL, and in December 2015 the WTO authorized just over $1 billion in tariffs against U.S. products from Canada and Mexico.

In 2015, Congress repealed MCOOL. The WTO cases still remain active today, with Canada and Mexico keeping the cases open to put pressure on the U.S. to prevent any attempt at reinstating MCOOL.

If the US were to implement a new MCOOL program, Canada and Mexico could immediately retaliate. Johnson said the Beef Origin Labeling Accountability Act seeks to close these open cases from Canada and Mexico in order to move forward on reinstating MCOOL.

Johnson is one of several legislators seeking to promote country of origin labeling. Other proposed MCOOL rules include the Country of Origin Labeling Enforcement Act, the American Beef Labeling Act and a “Product of USA” label claim rule from the USDA.

The Beef Origin Labeling Accountability Act would:

  • Direct the United States Trade Representative and Secretary of Agriculture to work together to determine a process of reinstating Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) for beef that is compliant with World Trade Organization rules.
  • Require the two agencies report to Congress on their progress in determining a trade-compliant means of MCOOL, including any recommendations for legislation that may be necessary and any engagement with international governments on the matter.
  • Direct the US Trade Representative to enter into consultations with the Canadian and Mexican governments to resolve the outstanding MCOOL trade disputes the two countries have open against the US.

This article is an excerpt from the October 2023 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Country-of-Origin feature and more in the digital edition here.