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Montana senators to fight delay in meat labeling

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Well-known member
Feb 13, 2005
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Montana senators to fight delay in meat labeling

Gazette Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - President Bush signed into law Thursday an agriculture spending bill that will postpone until 2008 mandatory country-of-origin labeling on red meat, sparking vows by Montana senators to sponsor legislation repealing the delay.

The new law, part of the $100 billion food and farm spending package, marks the latest in a series of delays for the mandatory labeling, which was originally required by law to be effective by Sept. 30, 2004.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who said he will introduce a bill fighting the postponement, pinned the blame for it on both the Bush administration and Southern members of Congress.

"The administration is just thumbing their nose, frankly, at the Congress," Baucus said. "We're trying to turn that around. ... It's also, I think, some Southern-state senators and House members whose cattle goes back and forth across the Mexican border, and they want to protect that operation."

Supporters of labeling say it would give consumers more information and allow them to choose American beef. But meatpackers and supermarkets oppose the labeling, saying the measure as signed into law by President Bush in 2002 would be overly burdensome and costly.

The Senate had passed the agriculture spending bill without the provision, but negotiators from the House added it while the two chambers hammered out the final version of the bill. "The process was flawed," said Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. "We didn't get to make our case. We didn't even get to vote. When you're denied that, that's wrong."

Burns, one of the House-Senate negotiators, refused to sign the conference report. "I've chaired (conference committees) before, and you just don't close a conference with a lot of loose ends out there," he said. "You just don't let the two chairmen get together, make a deal and sign the conference report. That's not the way this process works. And I was very disgusted with that."

The measure was originally passed as part of the 2002 farm bill. The U.S. Agriculture Department slated the rule to go into effect in 2004, but Congress delayed the labeling for all covered products except fish and seafood.

The American Meat Institute, the largest national trade association of meat and poultry processors, favors voluntary labeling and supported the delay.

"As it's been proposed, it's an incredibly burdensome and costly program with no evidence consumers want those labels or are willing to pay more for them," said Janet Riley, an AMI spokeswoman.

Supporters argue that the meatpacking industry has overestimated the costs of implementation and insist that voluntary compliance will not do the job.

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