Beef producers may find cattle marketing more difficult under the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law takes effect in September 2004, said a University of Missouri beef Extension specialist.

The law, passed as part of the 2002 farm bill, mandates retail labeling telling where animals used to produce some meat products were born, raised and processed.

Beef products covered by the law include whole fresh muscle-cuts and other beef products such as ground beef. Exempt products include beef sold through food service establishments or beef that has been significantly altered through cooking and processing.

The law also includes similar pork and lamb products, but not poultry products.

Any business that prepares, stores, handles or distributes a covered commodity must maintain auditable records for two years from the time they take possession of a qualifying food item.

“The difficulty with this law is the record-keeping and auditing system that the beef industry, Missouri cow-calf producers included, will have to implement to satisfy the standard of proof the law requires,” said K.C. Olson. “Many of Missouri's beef producers do not have adequate enough records to meet the required standard.”

Since much of Missouri beef is sold as fresh muscle-cut or ground beef, cattle buyers reportedly indicate that producers may face discounts for beef cattle that cannot be origin-verified, Olson said.

Products of unknown origin cannot be sold as commodities covered by the COOL law. Instead, they must be retailed through food service or ingredient-beef markets, which comprise 40 to 60 percent of the beef Americans consume each year.

These markets could quickly become glutted if a large number of cattle that are not origin-verified enter the marketplace after onset of mandatory COOL, he said.

University researchers estimate that only about 15 percent of beef cattle in the United States have adequate records today to meet the standard of proof set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and by the beef industry as to where animals were born, raised and processed, he said Independent analysts have estimated that the cost of program implementation is between $4 billion and $6 billion per year, while other estimates range as high as $9 billion, he said.

“Accurate information on costs of COOL is essential before mandatory compliance, begins,” he said.

Supporters and opponents of COOL agree that the law, in its current form, will result in significant burdens on the beef industry, he said.

“To avoid them or lessen their impact, the beef industry must act now to prepare record-keeping and communications systems for COOL or to try to have the law amended to make it more reasonable to implement, Olson said.


Robert Thomas is an information specialist, Extension and Ag Information, University of Missouri.