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sw

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A retailers perspective on the Montana Placarding law.

Published on Thursday, February 16, 2006

Guest Opinion: Grocers can't comply with meat label law
By BRADLEY P. GRIFFIN
Montana Retail Association

Next week, an advisory council will meet in Lewistown to begin work on rules that will implement House Bill 406, the Montana Country of Origin Placarding Act. The Montana Retail Association and the Montana Food Distributors Association testified against the bill and worked hard to kill it during the last legislative session. We do not like the placarding requirement or the penalties for failing to provide information that is unattainable or out of our control. Unfortunately, emotion and rhetoric prevailed and we are left with a law that will not do what the proponents want, which is to promote Montana beef. In fact, the law will have the exact opposite effect of decreasing demand for beef.

The bill requires retailers to label meat, poultry, chicken and lamb indicating from what country the meat comes. The retailer cannot comply with this unless the meat supplier indicates which country it came from -- something the suppliers are not required to provide now, nor do they.


Mixing cattle from all over
A common rationale for COOL is "If we know where our shirts come from, we ought to know where our steaks come from." If only it were that simple. Since Montana has no major meat processors, 99 percent of our cattle are shipped out of state to be finished and slaughtered. Once they enter the system and since there is no mandated animal identification system, Montana's cattle get mixed in with cattle from all over. Thus, when the retailer gets a shipment of boxed beef, he has no idea where it came from, only that it has been slaughtered in a federally licensed and inspected plant and USDA inspectors have stamped it Choice or Prime. Under Montana's new law, retailers would have no choice but to put up a placard that says "country of origin unknown." Is this any way to inspire consumer confidence? Is this useful information that will increase or decrease demand for Montana's cattle producers? When we have the safest and best meat in the world, why do we want signage in our retail stores that only serves to raise safety questions in the consumers mind?


Conflict with federal law
Perhaps the most compelling reason for not enforcing this statute is because our founding fathers included the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution which says that when state laws conflict with federal laws, federal law prevails and the state law is without effect. The issue of labeling meat products is specifically addressed in two separate federal statutes -- the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Inspection Act. Both contain a provision that says: "Marking, labeling, packaging or ingredient requirements ... in addition to, or different than, those made under this chapter may not be imposed by any state..." The Montana statute clearly imposes labeling requirements that are different than and in addition to federal requirements. Therefore, the Montana statute is pre-empted by federal law and cannot be enforced.

In summary, Montana's food retailers do not want to be placed in the position of installing signs that read, "country of origin unknown" because they do not want to see sales of beef drop precipitously for no good reason. They also do not like the idea of being fined up to $500 for each offense and none of them want to be the subject of enforcement actions by the state for a law that we believe is unconstitutional. Lastly, no retailer wants to be involved in expensive litigation with the state. The proponents scored their political points with passage of HB406. Now, they need to do like the other handful of states with unconstitutional country of origin laws on the books -- not enforce them.

Brad Griffin of Billings, president of the Montana Retail Association, also lobbies for the Montana Food Distributors Association, a trade group that represents the grocers in Montana.

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.
 

William Kanitz

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Their's Plenty of source verified beef in the USA willing to be sold in Montana.It's just not from the traditional suppliers in Montana today.Even SH's company and Creekstone ,Laura's lean beef would be glad to take everyone else's spot on the shelf.
 
A

Anonymous

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If the Homeland Security FDA laws going into effect this year are going to require us to keep records and source verification of where our feed and hay goes to and comes from-- doesn't it pretty much also require that there be a traceback and source on our food and meat- especially on all imported food products ? :???:
 

Econ101

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Oldtimer said:
If the Homeland Security FDA laws going into effect this year are going to require us to keep records and source verification of where our feed and hay goes to and comes from-- doesn't it pretty much also require that there be a traceback and source on our food and meat- especially on all imported food products ? :???:

You mean they can make you track hay but for Homeland security and bioterrorism reasons but not meat in a package that you eat?
 

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