South Dakota COOL bill goes down
March 3, 2017
In a 21-13 vote, the South Dakota Senate defeated a bill that would have made South Dakota the only state to implement a state country of origin labeling bill for beef.
Senate Bill 135 would have required grocers to share country of origin labeling information that they might receive with beef they procure. Some beef includes country of origin labeling information and some does not. If a grocer did not have such information, no country of origin labeling needed to be displayed for customers.
While the original bill called for an actual label, some organizations worried that this would violate federal rules for meat labeling that require federal labeling to pre-empt state labeling so the Senate State Affairs committee amended the bill to require a placard in grocery stores' meat coolers or shelves rather than individual labels on meat.
One of the bill supporters, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association boasted several members lobbying on Feb. 21, the day the Senate discussed the bill.
PRO AND CONS
Vice president Gary Deering, Sturgis, said he talked to legislators that day. He is disappointed in the outcome of the bill, but grateful for the support of many senators.
"I knew the vote would be tight," he said, of a bill he believes would have helped build consumer demand and might have started a nationwide trend, and other state's would follow suit.
South Dakota Cattlemen's Association president Larry Stomprud, Mud Butte, was pleased to see the bill defeated. He continued to worry about the federal pre-emption issue — that the federal government would oppose the move since it claims authority over meat labeling.
Deering said he doesn't understand why South Dakota's legislators would worry about standing up to the feds on this issue, when they are confident enough to do it on other issues like the speed limit law, helmet law, drinking age and other issues. "I'm just saying, we've stood up to the federal government before. We don't seem to remain consistent."
Stomprud said his group doesn't like mandatory COOL. "We don't like mandates. We have no problem with voluntary labeling as long as what they are labeling is verified," he said.
He also worried that grocers might put up a placard saying "origin unknown" which drive could consumers away from buying beef.
Deering, however, said he believes that if grocers were to receive a shipment of beef that didn't include country of origin information, that they would send it back and ask for labeled beef, which would help build demand for U.S. beef.
Sens. Russell, Maher and several others offered useful and relevant testimony on the floor of the Senate, Deering said. "I'm really proud of the statements made by the proponents of this bill," he said. Maher, a rancher and restaurant owner talked to his fellow senators about the crash in the cattle market following the repeal of the national COOL law, and the corresponding rise in beef prices.
Grocers who didn't comply would have been guilty of a petty offense, facing a fine of $25, Deering said. He felt like this mild punishment should have helped soften opponent concerns. He also said that Maher offered an amendment that would "sunset" the law in just three years, hoping to soothe opponents' fears.
But the South Dakota Cattlemen and other groups including the South Dakota Farm Bureau and South Dakota Pork Producers maintained opposition to the bill.
Stomprud said he doesn't know if the South Dakota Cattlemen will support any kind of a labeling bill in the future but he expects they might support some legislation for traceability — particularly a "bookend" kind of legislation that would keep track of the producer and slaughter point of animals. ❖