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U. S. farm leader defends COOL

A North Dakota farm leader has suggested U. S. meat packers are exaggerating the extra costs with which obeying country-of-origin food labelling (COOL) will allegedly burden them.

Robert Carlson, North Dakota Farmers Union president, said he doesn’t believe it’s as hard or expensive to segregate animals at slaughter plants according to their country of origin as packers say it is.

“I think they are telling people that it’s going to be much more costly for them to actually segregate and label than it will be if they try to do it in good faith,” Carlson told reporters after speaking to the Keystone Agricultural Producers’ annual meeting in Winnipeg Jan. 30.

“It’s in their nature not to have to spend any more money to comply with the law. They’ve been fighting COOL all the way until just recently when they thought it was going to pass,” he said.

“I think they’re exaggerating what their costs will be.”

The U. S. National Farmers Union is a staunch supporter of COOL, saying consumers have the right to know where their food originates.

Carlson said he sympathized with Canadian hog and cattle producers, particularly those who lose delivery contracts to the U. S. because of confusion over COOL.

Canadian cattle producers say COOL costs them up to $100 on every slaughter animal shipped to a U. S. plant. U. S. plants either refuse to accept Canadian animals or discount prices for them because of segregation costs.

But Carlson said COOL is here to stay and people have to live with it.

“This is a phase we’ll just have to get through. People deserve to know where their food comes from.”

Carlson was at the KAP meeting to speak about the U. S. Farm Bill and its impact on American and Canadian producers. The bill enables COOL, which requires that retailers label meat and other food products according to their country of origin.

Several KAP delegates questioned Carlson’s position on COOL during a question period after his talk.

Robert McLean, KAP vice-president, agreed consumers want to know where their food is from. But he said labelling is voluntary in Canada, not mandatory as in the U. S.

Gary Tolton, a hog farmer from Newdale, said the Canadian and U. S. pork and cattle industries have worked hard over the years to make North America an integrated market.

“Now we’re going to build a border across it,” he said.

But Carlson insisted COOL is necessary, especially in the recent wake of adulterated products, including toothpaste, milk formula and pet food, originating from China.

“History is on the side of food labelling,” he said.

Carlson said a “Product of Canada” label on a package of meat should be a marketing plus, since foreigners associate Canadian products with pureness and wholesomeness.

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