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Colin Woodall, NCBA Vice President of Government Affairs, discusses recent developments surrounding the EPA’s final WOTUS rule.
Let's talk about something that isn't so cool. That's Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL. This flawed labeling system is something I have opposed from the start - nearly three decades ago.
The initial burden of COOL fell on livestock producers, like yourselves, and meat packers who had to track and segregate cattle and hogs from Canada and Mexico throughout production systems. USDA estimates that COOL has cost the U.S. beef, pork and chicken sectors approximately $1.8 billion. Furthermore, there have been no measurable increases in consumer demand to offset the losses inflicted on the livestock and meat sectors. Canada and Mexico have also felt incredible burdens from COOL as U.S. meat packers sought to eliminate foreign-origin livestock from their supply chains due to record-keeping difficulties.
This is why our two closest trading partners took the U.S. to court in the World Trade Organization. In May, the U.S. lost that case for a fourth and final time, affirming Canada and Mexico's claims that the U.S. unfairly discriminated against Canadian and Mexican origin livestock. Now, our trading partners' retaliation on U.S. exports is imminent, and it's up to Congress to prevent it.
That's why I offered an amendment to the Surface Transportation bill, which is making its way through the Senate, to repeal COOL requirements for beef, pork and chicken. This amendment mirrors the House COOL repeal bill that was passed in June with 300 votes. I repeat: 300 votes. I used to serve as a Congressman, and even in my day, that large of a vote was rare. The House vote is a testament to how commonsense - and necessary - a COOL repeal is to the American economy.
Let me be clear on what the COOL repeal does not do: it does not inhibit agriculture producers interested in pursuing USDA process-verified programs that indicate the country of origin of their products from doing so. Existing voluntary programs pursued by individual farmers or companies that choose to differentiate their products as "of U.S. origin" will remain in effect, and consumers will still be able to source "U.S. origin" meat verified through voluntary USDA programs at the grocery store.
It's also important to understand that COOL provides no food safety assurances. It is purely a marketing ploy that has not been successful to anyone involved.
The Canadians have put together a deliberate list of U.S. products that are manufactured in states represented by members of Congress who have a history of supporting COOL. Those are the products that will face substantial tariffs, and it's not just U.S. meat industries that stand to suffer from COOL retaliation. Innocent bystanders, such as the mattress, jewelry, and furniture industries, will be retaliated against.
Without repeal, Canada and Mexico will soon hit the U.S. with $3.2 billion in retaliatory tariffs. To provide a little perspective, the effect of only $2 billion in retaliation would cost 17,000 U.S. jobs, according to Iowa State University professor Dermot Hayes.
Canada's Agriculture Minister recently said, "A full repeal of COOL is the United States' only option to avoid retaliation." If that doesn't spell it out in black and white, I don't know what does.
Mexico's Secretary of the Economy also recently said, "Retaliation is imminent and inevitable unless and until the U.S. takes action to repeal the underlying COOL statute."
The decision to repeal COOL - for the sake of the U.S. economy - seems like a no brainer. However, a few of my colleagues in the Senate still need some convincing.
Other proposals put forth in the Senate to create a new label in the 11th hour will not stop retaliation.
This is a battle I cannot fight alone. We need your help. Keep weighing in on this issue with your members of Congress. Our economy depends on it.
We've got to repeal COOL. We've had our day in court, and the time to act is now.
Mac Thornberry's political career began in an unlikely place -- in the pickup with his grandfather in Donley County. Back then, Thornberry would spend the day with his granddad driving around the ranch hearing stories and also commentary about the government restrictions.
"He was always interested in current events," Thornberry said. "Somehow he imparted on me the understanding that decisions made a long way off affect our daily lives."
One topic on the Thornberry ranch was the death tax. Mac recalls listening to discussions about the dire possibility that his family would have to sell parts of the ranch to pay the tax.
"Even at 12, I knew this was unfair," he said. "Like most farmers and ranchers in the area, we weren't rich. The value was in the land itself. It wasn't sitting in a bank somewhere. "
That sense of purpose led Thornberry to take an interest in politics and later to Congress. He was elected in 1994, and this year he was chosen to chair the House Armed Services Committee, the committee that oversees the Pentagon and all defense spending. He is the first Texan of either party to hold the position.
While much of his time is focused on national security, Thornberry has stayed true to his roots. He has consistently introduced legislation that would eliminate the death tax and says he will continue to push until it's eliminated.
"Death should never be a taxable event," he's said. He believes the American people should be able to work hard, build, and save knowing they can pass on what they have earned to their children and grandchildren.
Like the farmers and ranchers he represents, Thornberry is a strong proponent of private property rights and says that federal laws and regulations have hurt producers in his district. This year, he introduced a bill along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), which would end disputes between the federal government's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and private property owners along the southern bank of the Red River.
In 2013, the BLM began reviewing and updating its management plan for any land the federal government might own along the Red River.
Thornberry said there was immediate concern that the federal government was making a land grab, especially since those landowners have deeds and paid taxes on their properties for generations. That legislation is still pending, but Thornberry hopes it clears up the dispute once and for all to protect the ownership rights of those owners.
Similarly, Thornberry has introduced bills and pushed to stop an EPA rule that would vastly increase agency control of water on private property - a rule that would have expensive and unnecessary consequences for American ranchers.
"Folks who live and work in our part of Texas, especially the farmers and ranchers, understand the importance of clean water, and we work hard to be good stewards of the land," he said. "But we also understand that personal property and water rights are fundamental to the American way of life, a family's business, and many people's livelihoods."
Thornberry says this administration has shown little regard for the property rights of private citizens.
"No landowner should have to worry about whether the federal government will get in the way of their business because of the bar ditch behind their house," he said.
Thornberry has seen the consequences of an overreaching federal government first-hand. He represents more cattle producing families than anyone else in Congress, one of those being his family's own operation. Thornberry is still in the ranching business with his father and brothers.
Perhaps it is these strong roots that keep him so grounded. In a political climate where loud rhetoric seems to rule, Thornberry has been a steady, confident, and earnest advocate for agriculture. He favors free and fair trade, and has voted to repeal onerous Country of Origin Labeling requirements that hurt valuable trading relationships.
"My family is still part of the less than one percent of Americans that raise safe and healthy food for people here at home and abroad," he said. "And if what economists say is true, we will need to raise 70 percent more food by 2050."
He says that is a challenge the farmers and ranchers in his district are ready to meet, but it is made more difficult because the federal government keep stacking the cards against them.
"All of us who grew up on the land know how precious our way of life is," he continued. "It is not just about businesses or finances. It is also about self-reliance, stewardship, and taking care of what we have in order to provide opportunity and a better future for coming generations.
"Protecting our way of life is vital to our industry and our country," he said. "It deserves our constant vigilance and strong protection, and as long as I am in Congress, I will continue to fight to defend it."