Harrington's Sort & Cull

Mandating Voluntary?

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

Scrambling to address the WTO ruling that the COOL program for beef and pork leads to discrimination against Canadian and Mexican producers, some senators can't resist throwing mislabeled bones in all directions. I suppose pandering goes with the Congressional territory, but the ongoing attempt to supersede mandatory legislation with voluntary legislation strikes me as both silly and a waste of time.

As many as 13 eager-to-please senators are cosponsoring a bill that would repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling only to replace it with a voluntary program. These guys must have a serious lawmaking addiction, saying in effect, "If you won't let us craft a complicated (and internationally illegal) system to mandate something, we'll just design a detailed regulatory code (superfluous but further serving the national sport of law suits) to safeguard your own free will."

You might call it oxymoronic, but then you might offend morons.

Proponents of this mandatory/voluntary switcheroo argue that certain patriotic meat consumers should still have the right to guard their red, white and blue palates against foreign invasion. That sounds reasonable enough. But since when have packers, processors, jobbers, retailers, restaurateurs, boutique managers or soda jerks been prevented from branding products with such a respectable label if they thought a buck was to be made?

I suppose advocates would counter that if a "produced exclusively in the USA" label is to be truly meaningful and trustworthy for consumers, some legally enforceable standard must be established. So if a purveyor chooses to participate in the voluntary program, he must simply adhere to mandatory standards dictated by Washington. And would these voluntary-but-mandatory standards tax the same elusive and litigious specs that have plagued COOL for the last decade of its ineffective life?

I see, said the blind man. But why then does the political posturing sound so painfully circular and senseless?

Oh well, if that's what it takes to take COOL off the books and avoid serious trade sanctions from Canada and Mexico, I suppose we've all seen worse sausage making. So what if the Federal Register gets needlessly fatter. Just think of it as a job program for attorneys.

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Howard Waller
8/11/2015 | 10:06 AM CDT
The idea that in this day and age of constant surveillance by everyone with a cell phone, that falsifying the label of origin would not be exposed immediately is naive in the extreme. As a cow/calf producer I really don't care if the voluntary aspect skirts the regulations of the WTO, they aren't eating the stuff, I am, and my trust in Mexican produced goods is somewhere between none and less.
Gibbes Miller
8/4/2015 | 6:48 AM CDT
Who said government doesn't create jobs...