Cattle producer disappointed In Colorado COOL’s defeat
April 26, 2017
A measure that would have informed Colorado consumers as to the origin of beef they're buying and feeding their families or themselves was defeated in committee.
The bill, HB17-1234, would've reinstated country of origin information by displaying a placard next to beef with the product's origin featured on it. The bill was narrowly defeated in a 7-6 vote.
Voting to defeat the measure were Democratic Reps. Jeni James Arndt (Chair), Diane Mitsch Bush (Vice Chair), Jessie Danielson, Daneya Esgar, Chris Hansen, Donald Valdez, and Republican Rep. Yeulin Willett. Voting in favor of the measure were Republican Reps. Kimmi Lewis, Jon Becker, Perry Buck, Hugh McKean and Lori Saine, and Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock.
Colorado Rep. Kimmi Lewis, a cow-calf producer, had introduced the bill along with Sen. Vicki Marble. The placard placed at retail stores near home-grown beef would've designated the product as U.S. produced and not imported from another country.
"I represent the largest land district and the largest number of ranchers. I myself have a 300-head cow-calf ranch. This is the best bill I had out of four I introduced and I'm very disheartened by what happened. People want to know where their food comes from, whether it's a mom of three in the suburbs or someone else," Lewis said. "As a cow-calf producer, I'm very proud of what I produce and I want it labeled as being from the U.S."
Lewis, whose father was a senator in the late '70s, said that Colorado potatoes, Pueblo chili and other products are labeled, and Colorado beef should be, too.
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"I won't be giving up on this," she said. "I spoke with those who lobbied against it and learned that they'd never even read the bill. It had nothing to do with their groups. It was defeated crookedly and by one vote."
Diane Mitsch Bush, vice-chair of the House's agriculture, livestock and natural resources committee, helped defeat the bill. Bush said she heard from ranchers within her district who asked that she vote no.
"They were opposed to several different facets and believed that it would put them at a competitive disadvantage to other states," she said. "They feel this should be a federal issue and I'm hoping to see movement on that level."
Bush said there are ranchers in her district who work with local lockers, restaurants and grocery stores who produce their own placards, which has worked well for them.
"That's been successful, not in claiming that it's USDA beef, but that it's from a local ranch," she said. "It's their own labeling and marketing program. My ranchers were concerned that a one-size-fits-all mandate wouldn't work for everyone."
Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA, testified in support of the legislation. He said in 2015, Congress repealed COOL (country of origin labeling) for "political convenience."
"Colorado had the opportunity to correct Congress' error by reinstating country of origin labeling information for Colorado consumers," he said.
When origin information isn't disclosed to consumers, packers are able to randomly choose what imported beef they want to mix with U.S. beef in the markets.
"When meatpackers think prevailing cattle prices are too high, they bring in cheap, undifferentiated imports to suppress domestic cattle prices. And, when they want to increase shareholder profits, they bring in cheap, undifferentiated beef and pass it off to unsuspecting consumers for the same price as domestic beef, using the good names and reputations of U.S. ranchers to accomplish their deception," Bullard said.
In fact, R-CALF USA launched a We the People petition designed to draw 100,000 signatures calling for the Trump Administration to ban imports of Brazilian beef until all beef sold in American supermarkets are labeled with country of origin. The petition sites imported Brazilian beef as being "unsafe." ❖
— Danley-Greiner has spent more than 20 years as a journalist covering local, state and national issues important to agriculture and those dedicated to farming.