Country of Origin

Farmers, ranchers and those who work to bring you your food have been hit by a lot on a lot of fronts in the USA. First, mother nature has packed a heck of a punch the last decade with drought, fire, weird petulance, flood, and well, just about everything else that could be thrown at us from a nature stand point. Who can fight against the forces of nature? One must roll with those punches.

But there are some obstacles that seem avoidable. Like having our own government create a non-level playing field.

Let me explain. In 2016 the rules were changed for those who served the public by supplying beef and other meats. The new laws removed reference to ‘Country of Origin’ from the labels on beef following recommendation from the World Trade Organization. The rational was to remove unfair impediment to the US beef market by neighbours Canada and Mexico. But the intended affect and the actual affect were miles apart.

Today ranchers must adhere to the high standards placed on those who produce beef in the United states while those who import beef adhere to the standards of the country they raised the beef in. Grass fed means a very specific and certified thing in the United States and is a hurdle that includes documentation and inspection from government officials to make sure the standard is honest and fully implemented. Grass fed from other countries may be upheld in the same way but the supervision and inspection isn’t there to verify.

As a result, their consumers are being denied the right to know what they are purchasing – beef is being labelled ‘Product of USA’ when the Beef Stock was actually raised abroad and imported here pre-processing.

Looking at the import/export data from USDA for the three years prior and post the regulation changes in 2016 shows there were significant changes in where imports are sourced from. The biggest winner in the new regulations appear to be Nicaragua and Mexico while Australia and Argentina appear to have lost the most market share since the new regulations.

The eight main players performed as follows:

Country % change after regulation.
beef imported
Australia 30% less
Canada 35% more
New Zealand 14% less
Brazil 35% more
Mexico 74% more
Uruguay 14% more
Argentina 33% less
Nicaragua 41% more

While the laws have not opened the floodgates of imported beef as much as was originally feared, it is changing the beef market incrementally year over year toward a more globally sourced supply.

The cost of operation, cost of inspection and adhering to standards in the United States vs. operation and regulation in Mexico and Nicaragua are substantial. Far West Texas Cattle Co. is not against the sourcing of less expensive beef for the US markets; we only believe it is fair that the consumer be informed as to what they are purchasing. Country of Origin labelling allows the consumer to decide if they want to save on the expense of beef or if they want to know that the beef they are purchasing was produced according to the standards in the United States.

Recently house Bill 2712 was introduced to reinstate country of Origin and has been passed by a wide margin (92-6). It will now go to the Senate. We at Far West Texas Cattle Company support such an initiative and are hopeful the Senate will recognize the consumer’s right to full knowledge of the product they are purchasing.

By: Debbie Willbanks

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