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Meat labeling battle sizzles

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HAY MAKER

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Meat labeling battle sizzles


By NOELLE STRAUB
Gazette Washington Bureau



WASHINGTON - Members of Congress from Montana and Wyoming teamed up with other Western lawmakers Thursday to launch another salvo in the war over country-of-origin labeling for red meat, aiming to repeal a two-year delay recently signed into law.

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., introduced legislation that would move up the start of mandatory labeling to 2006, attempting to undo a measure in an agriculture spending law that last week postponed the mandatory labeling until 2008.

"In essence right now if you export beef or meat from this country you have to label it, and I don't see anything wrong with putting 'product of the USA' on the label here in this country," Burns said. "I think it's just right, and it's the law."

Congress has been battling over the issue for years, passing a series of delays for mandatory labeling that was originally required by law to begin in 2004. But despite the successes of their opponents, the Western senators insisted they would prevail.

"You just don't give up, you just don't roll over, as long as we've got a small window of opportunity," Burns said. "It will come up next year again if we don't hit this window like we should."

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., co-sponsored a companion bill in the House.

In separate legislation, several of the lawmakers are working on measures that would prohibit the Agriculture Department from placing its grading labels, such as "USDA prime" or "USDA choice," on packages of imported meats.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., a co-sponsor of the country-of-origin bill, said such labeling would benefit both producers and consumers of red meat.

"It's in the law because people want to know the origin of the products they buy ? because it affects the quality of the product, that is, their tastes, safety," Baucus said. "People on the other end want to be able to produce meat, fish, whatnot and label it, as they believe they have an opportunity to gain an advantage."

Meatpackers and supermarkets oppose country-of-origin labeling, saying the measure would be overly burdensome and costly, requiring reams of paperwork. They have successfully fought to delay the measure that passed as part of the 2002 farm bill.

Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said increasing trade flow means that the need for identifying where products originate also increased.

"So about the only resistance, I think, comes from the processors, and we can work this out so that there's no big deal there, and it can be done," Thomas said.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., also co-sponsored the legislation.

Supporters of labeling expressed outrage over how the latest delay came about.

The Senate-passed version of the bill did not include the delay, but House negotiators added it while writing the legislation's final version. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said the chairman of the House-Senate negotiations recessed the conference committee with a promise to return to handle outstanding issues, including labeling, but never reconvened and instead finished the bill without input.

Burns fired off an angry letter to House Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, about the move. Bonilla's office did not return calls for comment.
 

STAFF

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Meatpackers and supermarkets oppose country-of-origin labeling, saying the measure would be overly burdensome and costly, requiring reams of paperwork. Yet this new traceability system in Japan can track imported beef by analyzing the genes of the animal it came from, The Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported in its riday morning edition.



The system is able to identify individual cattle, using a series of reference numbers for their genes, which the firm allocates to each animal.



The new system allows more accurate management of imported beef than an IC tag, which uses a tiny integrated circuit to store information, the company claims.



The company will provide a consignment service for cattle ranchers, under which it will analyze genes from blood and tissue samples obtained from live cattle in the U.S., after confirming that their farms are not infected with mad cow disease.



BML will then allocate genetic numbers specific to each animal to manage the data. After the beef is imported, the company will be able to determine if it is from any of the cattle whose genes were analyzed.



The company hopes to promote the service mainly to food supermarkets that operate their own ranches in the U.S. and import beef to Japan, ahead of the possible resumption in December of American beef imports to Japan.



It has already signed a contract with a major supermarket to start the service next year, initially charging about Y20,000 to analyze each cow.
 

Econ101

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STAFF, I guess they can't put it in a big mixing vat with 50/50 trim for ground beef that has been stored forever and get a good result.
 

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