An Affidavit is OK
"The National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) worked with an industrywide coalition to develop a standardized form, an affidavit, that can be used by producers and at all industry levels to declare country of origin, Jeff Windett, Executive Vice President of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, explained.
Windett said about five percent of cattle in the U.S. are enrolled in QSA (Quality Systems Assessment) or PVP (Process Verification Program), and they will be granted “safe harbor” under mandatory COOL. “For the other 95 percent of cattle, there will have to be a producer affidavit on cattle they’re selling, saying those cattle are U.S. born and raised,” Windett said.
He said producers may have to prove, at some point, that these cattle are in fact U.S. born and raised, and he believes normal record keeping documents, “producer records, calving records, animal health records, should be kept on file,” he noted.
The burden of proof legally falls on the packer, and the commodity is the product covered in the law. "The producer has the information that becomes the commodity," Heather Vaughan, NCBA spokesperson, explained.
So how will COOL affect producers?
“Time will tell,” Tamara Hinton, spokesperson for Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture, added, “The "covered commodities" of this law are meat and meat products – not livestock. (Again), the point of enforcement is retailers, not directly processors or producers. The statutory requirements placed on retailers will affect processors and producers through changes in the trade of livestock as retailers seek to purchase meat and meat products in ways that allow them to comply with the law. USDA has signaled that they intend to implement the law initially in a way that that takes into account that livestock trade will take time to adjust to these new practices.
Windett noted that 95 percent of cattle in the U.S. markets will have to be verified by affidavit now. “I believe this is a trade issue, not a consumer issue,” Windett noted, saying, “Overzealous lawmakers didn’t know what they were asking for or didn’t understand how beef cattle move in this country.”
But the affidavit was the least intrusive, least burdensome option for the producers, Vaughan said. “The USDA left it up to the (agriculture) industry to develop a way for the documentation of livestock to be handled.” She noted, however, that ultimately, the affidavit will be up to the individuals and their individual sale barns. Vaughan agreed with Windett that record keeping will be important, in the case producers need to prove their livestock’s origin. “Packers will be required by law to maintain records for one year,” Vaughan said, adding that producers should plan to keep their records for that long as well. “That being said, everyday business documents will serve as this proof, and that is something most cattle producers will already have on hand,” Vaughan said.
The Basics of COOL
“The 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to require retailers to notify their customers of the country of origin of beef (including veal), lamb, pork, chicken, goat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, perishable agricultural commodities, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts. The implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish was delayed until Sept. 30, 2008. A retailer is any person engaged in the business of selling any perishable agricultural commodity at retail. Retailers are required to be licensed when the invoice cost of all purchases of perishable agricultural commodities exceeds $230,000 during a calendar year. The term perishable agricultural commodity means fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables,” Billy Cox, USDA Ag marketing service spokesperson, told us.
Hinton said, “COOL requires that retailers provide a country of origin label for every product listed under the law effective September 30. Labeling the listed products at the retail level is mandatory under the law. What is not mandatory and is expressly prohibited is the US Department of Agriculture using a mandatory animal identification to enforce this new labeling law. However, this does not prevent the buyers and sellers of livestock from using source verification systems – including the National Animal Identification System – as a part of their normal conditions of commerce."
What other forms of proof will be used to determine Country of Origin?
Hinton said, “The short answer is: whatever the buyer of your livestock demands. The law specifically states that USDA, in its enforcement activities, cannot require additional documentation and can only use documentation that is normal in the livestock business.”
As mentioned in the USDA's "COOL Frequently Asked Questions" responses, a producer affidavit, which is a sworn statement in writing made especially under oath or on affirmation, could be suitable for declaring your cattle's country of origin.
USDA Representative Cox explained, “Producers and feedlots with animals that are part of a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) compliant system may rely on the presence of an official ear tag and/or the presence of any accompanying animal markings on which origin claims can be based."
What are the benefits of this program?
“People are advocating this because they want to know where their meat is coming from thinking it will be safe or unsafe based on its origin. Country of origin labeling is not a matter of food safety. It is a marketing issue. But the people who produce that product should design and implement the labeling program, not the government,” Hinton noted.
Vaughan added, “In the same way people may choose clothes that say “Made in the USA,” people may choose to buy beef that says “Made in the USA.” It can be marketing tool. What it isn’t is a food safety tool.”
“When USDA analyzed this law, they identified significant costs, which will ultimately be born by producers and consumers, and no quantifiable benefits. Proponents of this mandatory law believe a premium will be derived for US-labeled products, but this remains to be seen. Common sense would suggest that if retailers could derive a higher price for their products simply by labeling them as from the US, they would already be labeled,” Hinton said.
But, Windett noted that since the expenses and costs of COOL are yet to be seen, and with today’s economic crunch, “when was the last time you walked into Wal-Mart and saw people making decisions based on label? People are more concerned with cost.”