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Where's the beef...from?

Congress delays country-of-origin labeling

Where's the beef" was one of the most clever TV advertising campaign lines of the last quarter century. Today, American consumers are asking, "Where's the beef from?" You could ask Congress. Unfortunately, some members are too busy producing congressional "pork".

This week, the National Farmers Union released the results of a national survey that show consumers want mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL), prefer U.S.-labeled food and are willing to pay for it. The poll, conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc., found that consumers overwhelmingly support country-of-origin labeling. The following questions were asked:

Do you think food should be labeled with country of origin information? 82% said "yes".

As a consumer, would you be more or less inclined to buy food produced in the United States? 85% said "yes".

Would you be willing to pay a few cents more for food products grown and/or raised in the U.S.? 81% said "yes".

The results are as striking as they are urgent.

When Congress passed the 2002 farm bill, COOL was included. Funding of this important provision still required congressional appropriation. Sadly, it has been delayed for two years by Congress' failure to appropriate the necessary funds.

The omnibus appropriations bill, passed Jan. 22, 2004, did not include funding because certain House members opposed funding COOL. Despite consumer concerns, agriculture producer support for COOL, and the suspension of U.S. beef imports by foreign governments, the Congress has failed to deliver.

As National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson has said, "U.S. farmers want COOL, 82 percent of American consumers request it, and the U.S. Senate directed conferees not to include the COOL delay in the omnibus spending bill. It is unfortunate that Congress and the administration would ultimately ignore the will of so many Americans to benefit a handful of companies."

At a May 2, 2003, USDA listening session in Pasco, I testified on behalf of Farmers Union. Many cattle producers and other agriculture producers also testified that day. The testimony was overwhelmingly supportive of COOL. The hotel parking lot was full of pickup trucks just like mine. They came from Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The corporate participants' jets parked at the airport down the street offered a sharp contrast, just like their opposition to COOL.

Rest assured, the issue is not resolved. Producers and consumers are united and we will not give in to congressional indifference. COOL remains an issue in the countryside; a top priority issue with National Farmers Union; and we will make sure it continues to be an issue in Congress.

Jim Davis is a resident of Coulee City, Wa., and is President of the Washington Farmers Union.

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