The nation's Country of Origin Labeling or COOL law calls for all perishable agricultural commodities and peanuts to say where they were produced. COOL though isn't slated to become mandatory until late next year. In the interim much of the D.C. food lobby has been working to prevent its full enactment. Critics claim implementation will be costly to processors, retailers and consumers. For their part, small producers, especially livestock producers, argue the labeling could be a distinct advantage to their marketing efforts.
Ironically, arguments for Country of Origin Labeling, especially those of cattle ranchers, were boosted this week by news that also buffeted the cattle market.
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or B-S-E, first appeared in England in 1986. By the late 1990s it became an epidemic, causing the culling of herds throughout Europe. This week, Canadian officials announced the disease had been discovered in a single cow in Alberta.
The news sparked a sell-off among commodity traders and also battered stocks on the New York Stock Exchange for companies such as McDonald's and Tyson Foods. The U.S., along with other governments across the globe, issued a ban on the import of Canadian meat and livestock in an attempt to protect the food supply.
So far, there only has been one cow found to have B-S-E. The particular bovine in question was culled from the herd in January on suspicion of pneumonia and sent to a rendering plant. Canadian officials stressed the cow did NOT become part of the human food chain. The rest of the herd is in quarantine and at week's end, no further cases of B-S-E had been reported.
Many large U.S. restaurant chains were quick to point out the origin of their meat as either exclusively sourced from the U.S., or at the very least, not imported from Canada. And the lack of further Mad Cow cases calmed the markets where cattle prices have returned to near pre-B-S-E announcement levels.
U.S. and Canadian officials are perplexed by the discovery. In 1997, a policy was put in place in both countries which bans the use of mammalian meat and bone meal in feed meant for cattle, sheep or goats. The refeeding of animal protein is thought to have been the primary means of transmission of B-S-E among cattle in England and Europe.
While the government has issued reassuring statements about the safety of the meat supply, there are others with dissenting opinions. Eric Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation, a book which decries the methods used to provide food to Americans.
Eric Schlosser: "The USDA has the job of promoting American agriculture and at the same time of making sure its products are safe. Often there is a conflict between those two. I think too often the USDA has sided with the producers and not the consumers."
Schlosser is not alone. Some scientists are concerned chronic wasting disease, which has been found in deer and elk herds in Alberta province, is being transmitted between wild game and cattle.