July 30, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman
BOWLING GREEN, Ky.

In just more than a year, federal regulations will go into effect that will require that many meat products contain a country of origin label.

The COOL regulations will require Kentucky farmers to verify that their cattle or hogs were not imported. Most will do so by signing a form saying they were born on their own farm, said Lee Meyer, an agricultural economist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

The new regulations were part of the latest farm bill legislation and apply to all beef, pork lamb and fresh produce sold at retail. Processed and food service products are not included. The purpose is to give consumers a choice to buy products produced in the United States.

“The research is clear that a lot of consumers want to know more about their food and country of origin is part of that,” he said.

“Research in Kentucky has shown that about 20 percent of the consumers are willing to pay a premium for a Kentucky based product,” Meyer said.

“If there is a preference for U.S. products, then if we label that we should be able to increase the demand for U.S. meat. The debate is what proportion of consumers want to do that and what premium they are willing to pay and then compare that to the cost of implementation.”

Cost estimates vary widely, Meyer said. Some estimates are that the costs are going to be expensive, but others estimate the cost will be minimal.

“That has yet to be resolved,” he said.

Implementation means labels and a “verifiable recordkeeping trail.”

Meyer said he expects that farmers will have to verify that the cattle were born on their farm, likely by signing a document. Buyers or stockyards will then separate U.S. cattle from any imported or cattle of unknown sources. Stockyards and buyers will keep records that will follow the cattle.

Except for some breeding stock, cattle generally are not imported into Kentucky, he said.

“It’s not going to be much of an issue for us in Kentucky,” Meyer said. “If there’s going to be a cost problem it’s going to be later on in the system that might raise cost to consumers, more so than to farmers. There will be a little bit more recordkeeping, he said.

On Oct. 1, 2004, the legislation becomes mandatory. Until then, changes can always be made. Earlier this year, no money was appropriated for implementation but courts have ruled that the regulation will still go into effect with or without money, Meyer said.

Things to watch for are any legislative changes as well as how the industry actually implements the regulations. There are still a lot of uncertainties in the system including liability issues, he said.

“I think there are going to be ways to implement this that aren’t going to be too expensive,” Meyer said. “Some quality oriented alliances are doing this already. It is more the generic products that are going to be the issue such as ground beef. Many of the fast food chains use U.S. beef that is blended with highly lean beef from New Zealand or Australia to get an 80 percent lean product. So when you have that blended product, there’s going to be an issue there.”

There is no provision that allows for a label saying of unknown origin.

Meyer described the COOL regulations as a part of an experiment.

Consumer confidence is the basis of demand, he said. For the past three years, demand for beef has increased and a lot of that has come from improvements in quality including new products.

“Another aspect of quality is food safety,” Meyer said. “So how do we keep that confidence with consumers that we have a quality product? So we are experimenting with these things and COOL is a part of that.”

Contact: 

Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Source: Lee Meyer, 859-257-7272 ext.228