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Colorado legislature debates country of origin labeling

This time last year, the late Rep. Kimmi Lewis brought forward her Beef Country of Origin Recognition System or COORS bill, which was defeated in committee on a 10-3 vote after five hours of testimony. On Feb. 6, Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R- District 45, and Rep. Edie Hooten, D-District 10, the bill’s co-sponsor, said the bill expands the definition of misbranding to include meat from animals that were not born, raised and harvested in the U.S. be labeled as imported.

“The bill is different from the federal Country of Origin Labeling Law because it does not require the country of origin of the meat product to be stated on the label,” she said. “This bill simply provides that meat derived from animals not born, raised and harvested in the U.S. must be labeled imported. Different countries have different standards for how they raise livestock. Consumers deserve to know exactly what they’re buying or consuming.”

Hooten went on to say that the argument that HB 1117 will create new costs for the industry is untrue and that through the use of sophisticated tracking systems, livestock and meat are already tracked through the meat packers’ plants, freezers, and shipping facilities to ensure payment, customer satisfaction, quality control and delivery of goods.

Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-District 45, said four large meatpackers control 80 percent of the beef harvested in the U.S. and are able to drive down prices paid to producers by importing foreign cattle and selling the meat at the same price as meat produced by American ranchers to consumers who are unaware that they are purchasing beef not born, raised and harvested in the U.S. He said the packers are utilizing the USDA quality grade stamp to deceive consumers by using it to reflect the good reputation of U.S. ranchers.

“I personally believe that the right to know where your food comes from shouldn’t be based upon your income level, it should be allowed to everybody within the U.S.”

“I want to thank Rep. Hooten for joining on this bill with me,” Neville said. “Members, as you probably know I’m attempting to fill shoes that I can’t possibly fill right now. Rep. Lewis was an expert in this area and championed this issue. There’s no possible way I can fill those shoes alone, and quite frankly, both of us put together can’t champion this issue as well as she had in the past.”

Those testifying against the bill included Don Shawcroft, president, Colorado Farm Bureau; Carlyle Currier, vice president, Colorado Farm Bureau; Carolyn Bushnell, Good Food Institute; Nathan Weathers, rancher, Yuma, Colo.; Dallas Vaughn, Kit Carson County Farm Bureau; Sid Yoder, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Karval, Colo.; James Henderson, board director, Colorado Farm Bureau; Greer Bailey, representative of a small grocers group; Chris Howes, president, Colorado Retail Council.

Currier said the costs of the bill would unfairly fall to retailers and would invite retaliation from the federal government and the U.S.’s trade partners while doing little to return value to cattle producers. He said strengthening voluntary programs such as Colorado Proud provide value directly back to producers. At the request of the late Rep. Lewis, a roundtable group, including Currier, provided direction to the Colorado Department of Agriculture to do just that. He said he supports voluntary Country of Origin Labeling but creating what he called a patchwork of requirements across different states would cause confusion among consumers and raise prices at the meat counter.

Dallas Vaughn spoke in opposition of the bill, calling it a non-tariff trade barrier to trade with the state of Colorado that will increase costs and threaten existing policies. Henderson, a Conejos County rancher, said the bill is in direct violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act that will prompt a taxpayer-funded fight with the federal government.

Those testifying in favor of the bill included Linda Lewis, restaurant owner; Dr. Lora Bledsoe, large animal veterinarian; Bill Bullard, CEO, R-CALF USA; Ryon Sallee, cattle feeder; Julie Siegal, consumer; Kay Schreiber, rancher; Nick Levendofsky, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Bledsoe said Certificates of Veterinary Inspection can help differentiate foreign cattle at the point of slaughter, providing all of the information necessary to make the labeling feasible.

“There are niche markets that allow them to trace things like that through, however they also charge more for that,” she said. “I personally believe that the right to know where your food comes from shouldn’t be based upon your income level, it should be allowed to everybody within the U.S.”

Sallee, a cattle feeder in the Arkansas Valley explained that feedyards cannot comingle imported cattle and follow other protocols, which establish traceability and maintains high standards of production. He said the producers are disclosing origin and treatment information to the packers and the packers can do their due diligence by labeling the product before shipping it to retailers.

“The laws are out there,” Sallee said. “We have the safest products in the United States, we have the best Departments of Agriculture. We’re doing the work already.”

Rep. Lori Saine, R-District 63, asked if she could be purchasing beef from Brazil, Venezuela or Russia that she said could be “pumped full of drugs, full of steroids” and fed a substandard diet. Sallee said that the USDA inspection prevents unsafe meat from entering the food chain.

“That process is working,” he said. “We just need for people to know where it came from and let you, the consumer, decide if that’s what you want.”

The bill was amended to remove language referring to plant-based or cell-based meat products. Committee members voted 7-4 to send the bill to the floor. Committee members voting for HB 20-1117 were Rep. Tim Geitner, R-District 19, Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-District 4, Rep. Cathy Kipp, D-District 52, Minority Leader Neville; Rep. Saine, Rep. Mike Weissman, D-District 36, Rep. Hooten.

Committee members voting against the bill were Rep. Meg Froelich, D-District 3, Rep. Emily Sirota, D-District 9, Rep. Alex Valdez, D-District 5.

For the hearing, Rep. Holtorf substituted for Rep. Larry Liston, R-District 16, and Minority Leader Neville substituted for Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-District 21.

The South Dakota Senate is planning to discuss a resolution that would call on President Trump to add country of origin labeling for beef to the USMCA agreement.

A Washington state House committee is discussing a bill to require retailers to indicate whether beef was born, raised and slaughtered in the USA, or imported. The retailers are only required to pass along information that is already readily available to them. ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.


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