Just when it appeared dead for the current session, Country of Origin Labeling is back in Congress; this time in the form of new legislation introduced by South Dakota Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson. The two Democrats are miffed by revelations that USDA allowed 33 million pounds of Canadian ground beef to cross the border after an import ban on such product was in place. Their outrage led to the filing of a bill that would restore Country of Origin labels to the original September 2004 deadline. Republican lawmakers last year delayed implementation until 2006.
Advocates argue the labels are needed now, as both demand and prices rise for retail beef.
A number of factors have come together to push retail beef prices to higher levels. Analysts say much of the impetus for higher prices stems from the multi-year drought in the West, where less grass has been available to feed cattle. Ranchers, in turn, have declined to expand herds for the past five years.
Analysts also cite the improving economy and the popularity of high-protein diets for the jump in prices.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association says consumer beef demand -- a measure of price and per capita consumption -- rose by more than 10 percent in the first quarter of the year. That demand has supported a rise in retail prices on everything from ground chuck to boneless sirloin.
USDA, meanwhile, released its latest Cattle on Feed report Friday. The numbers show 99 percent on feed compared to year-ago levels, just 86 percent placed, and 96 percent marketed. It marked the first time in seven months that feedlot inventories slipped below year-ago levels.