R-CALF Accuse AMI Of Crying Wolf Over Labeling Reforms

BILLINGS – According to an accusational press release from R-CALF, the nation’s largest meatpacking trade association, the American Meat Institute (AMI), which represents the interests of importers of large volumes of foreign meat and livestock, continues to masquerade as a representative of U.S. farmers and ranchers in order to further its political agenda.
calendar icon 8 June 2007
clock icon 4 minute read

The press release says that in a full-page advertisement in the World Pork Expo supplement published in the June 2 edition of Iowa Farmer Today, AMI attempts to scare away U.S. farmers and ranchers from mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL), a law passed in 2002 but effectively delayed by multinational meatpackers for all commodities except fish and shellfish. AMI’s advertisement states, “COOL: A Threat to Farmers, Bring Your Lawmakers In Out Of The Cold.”

“AMI does not want to label beef or pork with a country-of-origin label because it’s not in their financial self-interests to allow consumers to choose from what country they want their beef and pork produced,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

“The packers and processors are not farmers or ranchers,”

"AMI’s blatant attempt to scare farmers and consumers by disguising itself as a representative of farmers’ interests is repulsive.

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard

“Instead, it is in the meatpackers’ self-interests to continue sourcing cheaper imported cattle, hogs and meat, and passing it off to unsuspecting consumers as if the meat were produced right here in the United States,” Bullard emphasized. “We know AMI is on the opposite side of consumers and farmers when it comes to COOL, but AMI’s blatant attempt to scare farmers and consumers by disguising itself as a representative of farmers’ interests is repulsive.”

Less than two weeks ago, R-CALF USA sent a letter to members of Congress to inform them that AMI and other meatpacking and processing representatives falsely claimed to represent the interests of a vast majority of livestock producers via a letter they sent to Congress to urge the defeat of farmer-led initiatives to make needed competition reforms in the U.S. livestock market.

“The packers and processors are not farmers or ranchers,” Bullard said. “It’s high time that AMI put an end to its deceitful practices and owned up to the fact that it is in its industry’s self-interests to purchase livestock at the lowest possible prices – whether that livestock is produced in the U.S. or under unknown conditions on foreign soil.

“This difference in economic interests could - and should - result in a healthy competition between farmers and packers, but this competition can’t work if AMI continues its deceitful tactics,” he asserted.

Bullard said AMI’s anti-COOL advertisement is deceptive and misleading, making claims that have already been discounted by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) in a June 2003 report. For example, AMI resurrected inflated USDA cost estimates for COOL that were later called into question by the GAO. The GAO found that the USDA estimates used by AMI - a $3.9 billion dollar price tag for COOL, including $2 billion for recordkeeping - were based on assumptions that are “questionable and not well supported.”

Additionally, AMI falsely threatens livestock producers in its June 2 ad by stating, “Third party verification will be required and random audits will occur,” and that producers could be liable for the $10,000 fine levied by USDA for a willful violation of the law.

Neither the statute, nor USDA’s proposed COOL rule requires third-party verification. In fact, the interim final fish rule expressly states that the law does not require third-party audits and specifies that a downstream supplier or retailer need not require third-party verification or third-party audits of an upstream supplier’s origin information in order to avoid liability. Moreover, there is no legal basis for AMI’s threat that producers could bear the cost of a fine levied on intermediary suppliers or retailers for willfully violating the COOL law. Only a willful violation of the COOL law is subject to a fine, and only following a 30-day period during which the violation can be corrected.

Another misleading claim by AMI is that COOL would allow imports to gain a competitive advantage because imported products already contain labels as to the products’ origin.

“This claim is nonsensical because the labels on imported meat are generally lost after the product enters the United States,” Bullard pointed out. “The GAO addressed this issue in 2003 and stated, ‘we found that meat packers and processors did not routinely maintain country-of-origin information on imported meat as required by the Tariff Act.’”

Bullard said AMI’s action of first trying to pass itself off as a representative of farmers and then its action of trying to scare producers into supporting its political agenda are irresponsible and unbecoming of a trade association for any segment of the U.S. meat supply chain if that association wants to maintain any level of credibility.

“AMI needs to raise its standards so important issues such as COOL can be discussed on their merits, not on the basis of deceit,” Bullard said. “R-CALF USA is urging farmers and ranchers not to heed AMI’s cry of ‘Wolf!’ COOL levels the playing field by informing consumers of where their food is actually produced. We know COOL will take a tremendous amount of market power away from meatpackers, but COOL will result in benefits to both producers and consumers.”

Go to previous news on the Country Of Origin Labelling (COOL) debate by clicking here.

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