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James Schmidt, Menoken, N.D., Published January 14 2014

Letter: Country-of-origin labels benefit American consumers, ranchers

Right now, country-of-origin labeling is in jeopardy in the farm bill conference. We know that some conferees intend to introduce an amendment shortly that will gut or repeal U.S. COOL. If this amendment passes, U.S. ranchers will not be able to differentiate their product with a U.S. label and consumers will not have the information they need at the point of purchase.

The anti-COOL groups and their supporters want U.S. beef to become a generic product of North America. In reality, there’s nothing more important to a competitive, free market than the ability to differentiate one’s product and that’s what COOL does. There’s nothing more fundamental to giving consumers information about the origin of their beef than COOL.

Why would anyone oppose COOL? We know the truth: We know that opposing COOL has nothing to do with costs because that scare tactic has been dispelled; we know that opposing COOL doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of consumer interest because survey after survey has proved consumers want and deserve country-of-origin information; we know that opposing COOL has nothing to do with retaliatory tariffs because that worn-out scare tactic has also been dispelled.

Giving consumers choices empowers them, and allowing U.S. producers to differentiate their product empowers them. Isn’t that what competitive free markets should do: empower both the seller and buyer – that’s the American way.

Now is the time to take a stand for COOL, and there’s no time to waste. Call Capitol Hill and ask for one of our elected official’s office. Ask them to pick up the torch and represent North Dakota cattle producers and consumers by rejecting any amendment to the farm bill that would alter or repeal COOL and urge their fellow congressional delegates to speak up also in favor of COOL.

Make no mistake about it – the fate of COOL will be decided by those elected officials taking a leadership role.

Schmidt, Menoken, N.D., lives on a multigenerational farm and ranch and is a founder of I-BAND, a state cattle organization, a member of U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, and a member of North Dakota Farmers Union.