by Gilles Stockton, Grass Range, MT
Will Rogers is credited with first saying “we have the best Congress that money can buy.” I wish he hadn’t, that way it could have been me. The House vote to repeal Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) shows just who 69% of the Representatives work for, and here is a hint – it ain’t you and me. If your Congressperson was among the 10 Republicans and 121 Democrats who voted to uphold COOL then you are lucky to be represented by a person with integrity. My Congressperson, unfortunately, has shown himself to be another corporate bootlicker. The next time I have the chance, I will ask Mr. Zinke why it is that he thinks that where their meat was raised. It will be interesting to see how he weasels his answer. The fight to save COOL, however, is not over; the Senators still have an opportunity to let us know which ones work for the people who elected them and which ones have been bought and paid for. We need to remind the Senators that COOL is about market transparency, the ability to differentiate product, and the basic right of consumers to know what they are eating.
President Obama recently said…”no trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.” This COOL fight shows that this is obviously not true. Starting with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed in 1994, trade treaties have drained our economy and eroded our rights to govern ourselves. It scares me that our government is negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty in secret. All indications are that the TPP will give away more of our economy and further undermine our national sovereignty.
The House vote for COOL repeal is paving the way for the free importation of beef from South America and chicken and pork from China. If COOL is finally repealed by the Senate, South American beef and Chinese chicken and pork will be in the market, and consumers will not know the difference.
Most people don’t know that China has purchased Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the US and the world. China is also poised to import chicken to the US. We know of course that health, labor, and environmental standards are not enforced in China and if you think that the U S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors food safety practices in China, then you better think again.
Argentina and Brazil have endemic FMD, yet the USDA has already declared regions of Argentina and Brazil eligible to export fresh beef to the United States increasing the risk of importing FMD as well. According to USDA projections, it could cost $228 billion to control an FMD outbreak. Personally I think that this number is low, because the little known truth is that USDA does not have the capability to combat a major outbreak of FMD. Controlling this disease will require millions of doses of vaccine specific for which ever strain of FMD is involved – vaccine which we do not have on hand. By the time the proper vaccine is available the disease will have spread far and wide and infect deer and feral pigs too. No one has ever made a convincing argument as to how FMD can be eliminated from wildlife. We will be vaccinating livestock for a long time, and our export market for high quality beef and pork will be permanently closed. Congress and the Obama Administration seems to think that this is an acceptable risk. We really do have the best government that money can buy.
Although our government has proven time and again that they don’t like free market competition; that they funnel our tax dollars to the “too big to fail” banks; that they are addicted to writing special laws to coddle their big corporate donors; and that they are determined to negotiate trade treaties that undermines our economy and freedoms – we do still have the power to take our government back if we are willing to do so. We cannot afford to give up the fight for honesty and democratic process.
Livestock producers often feel that consumers do not value the efforts we make to provide wholesome food. However, in the fight for COOL, our interests and the interests of consumers are aligned. It is a point upon which we can both understand and relate. Livestock producers partnered with consumers can take back our government from the international corporate interests. I am mad, and many others across this nation are just as angry. I really don’t give a damn about what Congress thinks, or for that matter Canada, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). We should have labels on retail meat. The print on those labels should be in red, white, and blue, and in a font big enough that everyone can read – Born Raised And Processed In The USA.