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Editorial: Time to quit fighting COOL

Maybe we missed it, but somehow we expected there would be more of a buzz when McDonald’s announced that it had chosen Canada for its first-ever project to source sustainable beef. We saw no industry or government releases welcoming the announcement, which seems a bit odd. After all, McDonald’s is North America’s largest beef buyer. This is quite a feather in the cap of the Canadian system, and a tribute to the work of the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency and the Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS) for carcass quality tracking. It recently partnered with ViewTrak, a leading livestock-tracking technology company, to put the system into commercial use, and McDonalds’s will use BIXS in its program.

Given that BIXS was a Canadian Cattlemen’s Association initiative, you would have thought it would issue a release. Maybe it was being modest, but the CCA isn’t too modest about issuing releases on its other activities, notably heading off to Washington or Geneva to fight legal battles over U.S. country-of-origin labelling (COOL) legislation.

Which may explain the relative silence on McDonald’s. On one hand, the CCA is fighting against the requirement to put the name “Canada” on a package of U.S. beef. On the other it supports CCIA tracking and has been involved with BIXS, which will ultimately allow buyers to put a sticker on a package of beef saying it came from Joe and Jane’s Farm in No Hills, Manitoba. That won’t be the case with every McDonald’s burger, but it does mean yet another step in which beef is labelled much more specifically than its country of origin.

In other words, the CCA is simultaneously pushing for no labelling at all, and for a system in which beef is potentially labelled right back to the farm. This mirrors the contradictory stance on hormone-free beef. On one hand the CCA and the government argue that opposition to it is unnecessary and unscientific, and they team up to fight it at the WTO. On the other they both issue releases praising the Canada-EU Trade Agreement which will allow us to sell only hormone-free beef.

The CCA and the federal government have obviously concluded that there is no point fighting the EU, and it’s time to do the same on COOL. At last count the CCA had spent $3.25 million in legal fees and $3 million in other advocacy costs in fighting it. It’s time to quit.

The beef business is clearly headed to a system where every package can be labelled not to country of origin, but farm of origin. Canada already has the system to get there ahead of the U.S. Instead of spending checkoff money on lawyers’ fees, why not spend it on getting there sooner?

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