Colorado beef labeling bill dies in committee | TheFencePost.com

Colorado beef labeling bill dies in committee

Rachel Spencer Gabel
for The Fence Post

House Ag Committee members listened to six hours of testimony both in Denver and from five remote locations Jan. 29 in regards to the COORS bill.

Following five hours of remote and on-location testimony, HB18-1043, known as the Beef Country of Origin Recognition System or COORS bill, died in committee on a 10-3 vote.

Republican Rep. Kimmi Lewis, a cattlewoman from southeastern Colorado, sponsored the bill after the repeal of the national COOL program in 2015. The bill would have amended the Colorado Food and Drug Act to require Colorado retailers to indicate, through a placard on the meat case, the country of origin of beef sold.

Proponents of the bill testified to the advantage American cow calf producers would have through the placard labeling of their product, the simplicity of doing so, the added security for consumers, and consumers' demand for such placard labeling identifying U.S. beef.

In her introduction, Lewis presented data suggesting that beef prices were higher during the two years in which COOL existed and consumers were presented with the choice to purchase beef labeled as American. She pointed out that lower beef prices and the repeal of the national COOL program coincided.

"The cattle prices we were receiving after COOL since consumers had the option to choose USA beef during those two years, demand for USA beef increased which caused an increase in cattle prices, in fact, the highest prices on record," she said. She explained that the COOL program was enforced at the end of a long drought cycle.

"Consumer demand drives cattle prices when consumers have truthful country of origin information," she said.

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Lewis said one goal of the proposed bill is to protect Colorado's farming and ranching families in a day in which the state is seeing record numbers of producers leaving the industry.

"The continued loss of family farming and ranching operations directly correlates to the four multi-national meatpackers' continued increase in control over the beef industry since 1980," she said.

Lewis went on to say it is the vertical integration of the poultry and pork industries that prompted her to sponsor the COORS bill to protect the beef industry from this path. It is the multi-national packers, she said, who are duping consumers by selling imported beef at inflated prices all the while manipulating cattle prices in the U.S.

"By concealing the truthful country of origin information from the consumers, the multi-national meatpackers are exploiting U.S. cattle producers on one end of the supply chain and consumers on the other," she said.

REMOTE TESTIMONY

Testimony was heard from five remote locations around the state in both support and opposition of the proposed bill, beginning with those gathering at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colo.

Erin Nissen, Mosca, Colo., represented both Colorado Farm Bureau and Colorado Cattlemen's Association and spoke in opposition.

"This bill comes from a good place but ultimately fails to meet the standards for good and effective public policy when you start to compare the cost to the potential benefit," she said. "The cost comes in the form of more than just compliance expenses that would be borne by the retailer. They also come in the form of political and legal risks."

In addition to risking the relationship with Canada and Mexico, countries she called the U.S.'s two largest trading partners, the bill would also conflict with the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

Lynn Shawcroft, a cow calf producer from La Jara, Colo., testified and said the bill, when implemented only at the state level, amounts to a "mandated marketing and promotions program." He said ranchers have the option to participate in voluntary programs to add product differentiation and value to their product without the risk and added expense. In addition, Shawcroft said a "duplicative" program like the one being proposed would "diminish the value of voluntary programs that retailers and producers have invested time and capital into building."

No testimony in support was heard from the Adams State University site.

At Colorado Mesa University, Bruce Talbott, a produce grower and Colorado Farm Bureau member from Palisade, Colo., testified in opposition of the bill. He explained how the COOL program works through end of box stamps on produce, which he said is typically grown and processed on the same premises and then transported directly to the retailer.

"Ultimately, it is much easier to track a particular lot of produce than a pound of hamburger," he said. "The structural differences in the two production and distribution systems preclude a parallel labeling regime. I don't believe that attempting to establish a similar system is either advisable or achievable for both of these products, especially through a state-based program and absent of a national standard."

TRACING MEAT

Katherine Bedell, DVM, delivered testimony in support of the bill and from the unique perspective of a large animal practitioner, rancher, local food advocate, meat business owner and grocery store owner. Bedell said she is able to trace her meat products from the field in which they were raised to the meat case and proudly displays placards touting this information. "Passing this bill in Colorado would set the nations' national standard for Country of Origin Labeling," she said. Movements have to start from the ground up so as more and more states pass this sort of legislation, the national legislation will follow."

Additional testimony was heard in support of the bill from consumer Lynell Miller, and in opposition from Jamie Van Winkle, Jessica Potter, and Zandon Bray.

At Fort Lewis College in Durango, Dustin Stein, a young producer from Mancos, Colo., spoke in support of the bill, citing the support of local communities through grass-fed beef.

"This mislabeling by multi-national meatpackers steals money out of the pockets of Colorado producers," he said. "I believe we need to allow consumers to drive the market by properly labeling product and having placards in retail establishments that represent where animals are born, raised and slaughtered."

Former State Representative J. Paul Brown, Ignacio, Colo., delivered testimony in opposition to the bill. He sought to clarify earlier statements made in support of the bill citing beef prices being higher during the two years in which COOL was enacted nationally. Brown maintained that these higher prices were due to higher demand and lower supply.

Others testifying from Fort Lewis College were Al Heaton, who opposed the bill, and Dustin Stein and Neil Drysdale, who both testified in support of the bill.

At Otero Junior College in La Junta, Curtis Russell, a cattle producer and CCA member from Sugar City, Colo., testified in opposition to the bill based on the potential negative effects on both consumers and producers.

"If this legislation is passed, implemented and enforced, I believe it likely that large-scale beef processors may simply refuse to sell beef to Colorado retailers since the cost of tracking County of Origin for the less than 2 percent of the U.S. population that calls Colorado home will likely exceed the economic return," he said. "Therefore, Colorado's retail beef purveyors could be forced to purchase beef from smaller, less efficient higher cost processors that are willing to jump through whatever regulatory hoops the unelected bureaucrats at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are likely to erect to satisfy this bill's requirements that will inevitably result in higher food costs for Colorado residents."

Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association member Elizabeth Erickson-Noe, La Junta, Colo., spoke in support of the bill based on the transparency and choice it affords Colorado consumers.

"House Bill 18-1043 is more than a bill about choice, it's a bill about truth," she said. "In a sea of unnecessary, expensive, and excessive regulations, this bill is a simple, much-needed, cost-effective piece of legislation that benefits consumers that deserve to be told the truth about where our beef comes from."

Erickson-Noe argued that claiming the USDA is not allowing live, chilled or frozen beef into our retain supply chain without knowing where it originates is "not only erroneous but deceitful."

Other witnesses who spoke from Otero Junior College were David Mendenhall, Gary Melcher, Laura Negley, DVM, in opposition and Ryon Sallee, Sheri Smith, and Kenneth Lewis all in favor.

At Trinidad State Junior College, Henry Brown spoke on behalf of members of the Southern Colorado Livestock Association in support of the bill. Brown testified to the committee that "beef is king in Colorado," producing more revenue for the state than any other agricultural commodity. He said millennials are a growing segment of beef consumers and they, as a group, are interested in authenticity, animal welfare and meeting producers to be assured the product is healthy.

Jamie Smith, a ranch wife, mother of five, and grandmother of seven, urged the committee to support the bill. She said she was willing to pay more for beef because the health and safety of her children and grandchildren are worth the cost. Gerald Smith also briefly testified, reminding the committee that Brazil recently imported tainted beef into the U.S.

AT THE CAPITOL

Testimony at the Capitol began with Bill Bullard, R-CALF USA CEO, Mike Callicrate, Lora Bledsoe, DVM, and Gerald Schreiber, all in support.

"A health certificate, or certificate of veterinary inspection, is an official document issued by a federally accredited veterinarian," Bledsoe said. "The CVI certifies that animals crossing the state or international borders have been inspected and have met requirements for travel."

This system, she said, was created for disease control and has a thorough and already-established method for tracking cattle not of U.S. origin. These systems make it feasible and affordable to track beef from the point of origin to the point of slaughter, according to Bledsoe. In her testimony, Bledsoe also clarified for the committee the difference between a label, such as Certified Angus Beef, and a placard program. She said beef sold under some labels is done so at a premium price making it inaccessible for many low-income consumers though she maintains that consumers at all price points should have the opportunity to know the origins of their beef.

Colorado Farm Bureau was represented by Vice President Carlyle Currier, who is also a director on the board of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

"We know that creating a patchwork of individual state mandates on labeling of food would cause confusion and drive up cost for consumers," he said. "We have concerns about how retailers would comply with the requirements of the bill since it places a burden on them only."

Currier said the bill invites retaliation from the federal government and U.S. trading partners while delivering little return. He also compared the state-only measure to the recent GMO labeling that was similar and voted down by Colorado voters.

In closing, Lewis presented two amendments. The first amendment passed 11-2 and would have simplified the placard for imported beef to exclude the countries of origin outside of the U.S. The second amendment would have narrowed the scope of the retailer to clarify the exclusion of restaurants. It passed unanimously.

Rep. Lewis urged the Committee to allow the House to hear the bill and hear what is happening in the state's beef industry. She encouraged the committee to sift through the fear mongering presented during testimony.

"I'm begging you to take this to the floor," Lewis said. "I realize it'll never make it out of Capitol, the Senate won't let it go through. I know how politics are played. This is like a David and Goliath-type thing and I applaud the opposition. They have done a very good job and they have a lot of help."

Lewis continued that the Product of USA labeling is a scam and the consumers of Colorado deserve to know the origins of their beef. The bill ultimately died in committee on an 10-3 vote.

Lewis, Perry Buck (R), and Lori Saine (R) voted in favor of the bill. ❖

OPPOSITION

Those who testified in opposition of the bill were David Brown, Erin Nissen, James Henderson, Lynn Shawcroft, Michael Lobato, Bruce Talbott, Jamie Van Winkle, Jessica Potter, Zandon Bray, Al Heaton, J. Paul Brown, Curtis Russell, David Mendenhall, Gary Melcher, Laura Negley, DVM, Robert Patterson, Julie McCaleb, Kenny Rogers, Nick Hoover, Stephanie Hicks, Mary Lou Chapman, RJ Jolly, Pat Karney, Sid Yoder, Wade Yoder, Todd Inglee, Robert Farnam, Tom Herrington, Tim Layman, Steve Wooten, Dallas Vaughn, Bill Hammerich, Chris Howes, Carlyle Currier, Marc Arnusch, Audrey Rock, and Nathan Weathers.

SUPPORTERS

Those who testified in support of the bill were Katherine Bedell, DVM, Lynell Miller, Dustin Stein, Neil Drysdale, Elizabeth Erickson-Noe, Ryon Sallee, Sheri Smith, Kenneth Lewis, Henry Brown, Jamie Smith, Gerald Smith, Bill Bullard, Mike Callicrate, Lora Bledsoe, DVM, Gerald Schreiber, Debbie Price, Amber Price, Stanley White, Konnor Dehmlow, Korry Lewis, Jennifer Jones, James Bledsoe, Travis Stovall, Marlene Groves, Robin Price, Kay Schreiber, Karen Schiffer, and Art Evans.