COOL amendment dies on tie vote

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 27, 2004
by WLJ
— Next labeling effort not expected until ‘05.
A last minute amendment to the Senate's proposed $84 billion agriculture appropriations bill to move up the implementation date of mandatory country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) from September 30, 2006, to January 1, 2005, died last week when a Senate Appropriation Committee vote tied 14-14.
Congressional aides and Washington, DC, lobbyists doubted that any further effort to mandate COOL would be seen this year.
The amendment was defeated along party lines with all committee Republicans voting against the initiative and Democrats voting to speed up mandatory labeling implementation. A simple majority would have allowed the amendment to be sent on to a Senate/House conference committee for further consideration.
Leading the vocal Senate charge against expedited COOL implementation were Republicans Robert Bennett, UT; Christopher "Kit" Bond, MO; Conrad Burns, MT; Larry Craig, ID; and Ted Stevens, AK. Primary proponents, who testified in favor of the amendment, were its sponsors Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, and Sen. Tim Johnson, D-SD.
Bennett, who is the agriculture appropriations subcommittee chairman, said that it can be difficult and costly to discern the origin of a product that is born in one place, fed in another and possibly slaughtered elsewhere.
USDA's proposed COOL program mandates that all stages of a meat product's production must be included on a label. For example, beef that is from a steer that is originally from Mexico, slaughtered in the U.S., and then further processed in Canada before coming back to the U.S. has to have all that indicated on the label.
"It's not as easy as trying to determine what country a radish is grown in," Bennett said.
Proponents of immediate mandatory COOL implementation said it is "ludicrous to not take this step," because it is in the best interest of national consumer health and safety. In addition, they said mandatory COOL will provide the U.S. beef industry more profit opportunity because of differentiating its higher-quality and safer meat products from similar products produced in other countries.
While there is still expected to be lip service given to getting mandatory COOL implemented next year, most congressional and meat industry lobbyists weren't expecting any significant efforts to come to the forefront before next month's end-of-year adjournment.
Most sources indicated that the upcoming presidential election will shorten the amount of time many U.S. representatives and senators in Washington, DC, will spend in Washington, DC, the rest of this year and that will hamper any major pro-COOL effort from gaining much steam.
"There are still several other appropriation packages that need to get through both houses of Congress, and less time than normal to get them through conference committee and passed on to the President for signing," said a spokeswoman for a Republican member of the House Agriculture Committee. "We continue to hear that mandatory COOL will continue to be introduced, however, it's unlikely those efforts will be reward over the rest of this year. There are other pressing issues before revisiting this one. It will probably be one of the first items, at least agriculturally, brought up for consideration next year."
The target adjournment date for Congress this year is October 1. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor