The May 20th discovery of mad cow disease in a single Canadian cow is exacting a significant toll on the nation. Ontario officials see environmental and health risks growing as dead cattle pile up on farms. The corpses ordinarily would be rendered into protein for feed and other uses. But rendering plants are closed, due largely to the U.S. ban on imports of Canadian cattle, beef, and by-products.
In Alberta, where the diseased cow was discovered, officials fear cattle from the province will be banned from entering other Canadian provinces. There is also concern that U.S. officials will ease the ban for cattle from eastern Canada, effectively making cattle-rich Alberta an industry pariah.
Undoubtedly, there is renewed U.S. interest in better identifying the source of food. Indeed, the mad cow discovery has given new vigor to efforts to implement Country of Origin labeling, or COOL.
The 2002 Farm Bill mandated COOL by September 30th of 2004. The law requires retailers to notify consumers of the country-of-origin of beef, pork, and lamb – both in whole form and ground meat. The rules also apply to fish, fruits and vegetables, and peanuts.
Importing more than $2.5 billion dollars worth of Canadian beef annually, the United States represents about 80% of Canada's beef export market. U.S. officials acted quickly to the news from the north, closing the border to Canadian beef imports.
Some farmers and ranchers view COOL as giving domestic producers an edge in marketing their products… a point that is hard to dispute in recent days. But livestock trade associations including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and The National Pork Producers Council fear increased costs for their constituents -- and ultimately their customers -- will actually put them at a disadvantage.
Nevertheless, at least one large-scale livestock producer is attempting to capitalize on concerns over the safety of the domestic meat supply.
Premium Standard Farms, the nation's 2nd largest pork producer has announced it will supply retail customers COOL-compliant pork products as of July 1 of this year.
The company will certify that all of its hogs are born, raised and processed in the United States.
Premium Standard claims the company is the first meat producer in the nation able to offer consumers products that comply with the requirements of COOL. Company officials claim they have serious reservations about the impact of COOL on American agriculture, but want to meet the needs of their retail customers.