Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Of Meat Labeling, Red WalMart, and the NAIS, or Why I Don't Understand Politics and its Various Permutations

The Country of Origin Labeling Issue:
Consumers are demanding to know the origin of their meats, rather than accepting imported product from countries not identified on the packaging. This isn't a bad thing. We should be able to read a label and be informed, without having to blindly "trust" the middleman, especially the larger ones, such as WalMart, who do NOT "buy American" to the degree promised in the eighties. The 2002 Farm bill proposed country of origin (COOL) labeling for the sake of consumer awareness. The 2007 Farm Bill was supposed to have decided the particulars, yet it lingers in legislative limbo now till sometime in 2008. There is currently a lot of debate about this issue and its implications, since it's directly related to marketing rather than simply being a food safety issue. A bit more on this later in the post...

Buy WalMart...Buy Chinese

WalMart cares. About how consumer perception affects their bottom line. Sometimes.

Maybe not, though, in the meat labeling debate. You have to ask yourself WHY would they want to stand in the way of something as elemental as knowing the origin of that package of meat?

Let's talk about their consistency of message ...if that phrase can be applied at all.

I'm continually disenchanted with the proliferation of the WalMart empire and its departure from its earlier promises of "Buying American." WalMart makes no apologies for being one of the biggest suppliers of products "Made in China." I defy anyone to visit any aisle of WalMart and tally foreign-made goods against domestic ones.

I question why a company that superficially purports to be free-trade and America-friendly is one of the biggest customers of communist Red China, hardly an American ally. Isn't this a type of sleeping with the enemy? Why would our government allow this, and what with the ongoing human rights violations such as child and slave labor in China, again, why are companies like WalMart allowed to help perpetuate such a system? These are DIRTY DOLLARS.

I'm not particularly liberal. I am a regular citizen sickened by the greed machine. Since when do we BENEFIT by buying as cheaply as possible from countries that are committed to our demise?? (Hello, when did China become our best friend? Hello, aren't we supposed to be protecting ourselves even more in this era of vulnerability?)

And can someone remind me why, WHY we cannot be manufacturing our OWN consumer goods right here, where JOBS ARE NEEDED? Why are we fostering a dependence on other nations at the expense of our own citizens? This makes no sense to me. Therefore, I do not understand the politics of it. I know the answer is related somehow to money. I just can't figure out why it can't be protected...to center around American jobs and manufacturing rather than outsourcing. Why can an American housewife not hire a housekeeper, nanny, or landscaper to work below a certain wage and yet we will feed the WalMart machine to the tune of pennies an hour for child labor? Like I said, I don't understand politics.

Is a cheap set of frying pans and a drawerful of gym socks TRULY worth CHEAPENING our own workplaces, forcing out specialized and local business, and supporting a communist-based regime that flaunts ALL the international human rights laws regularly? Where is the return for this enormous sell-out? All I see 17 years later is that it's a joke even to WalMart itself to pretend its objectives are even remotely similar to those of the 1980s.

Oops. Soapbox. Back to the labeling dialogue.

Here's a little excerpt from WalMartWatch.com about the COOL issue:

Country of Origin Labeling
Wal-Mart is no longer an All-American Store.

In the 1980’s, Wal-Mart prided itself on its “Buy American” campaign, but the
company abandoned this ideal in 1985. Reluctant to acknowledge the fact that
most of its products are now made in foreign countries, Wal-Mart’s opposition to
Country of Origin Labeling is only the company’s latest attempt to disguise its
true nature.

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) was passed as part of the 2002 farm bill. It is law. However, when it came to be authorized and implemented, it has been consistently held up and delayed. It is expected to be passed in the 2007 farm bill again and implemented. But continuing opposition from companies like Wal-Mart could lead to further delays.

Click here to listen to "Too Big, Too Bad," a radio
announcement addressing Wal-Mart's stand on Country of Origin Labeling

To read their full article go here

So What Does This Have to do With the National Animal Identification Issue?

I'm not exactly well-versed these things, but in reading about the debated COOL amendments to the Farm Bill, the word "cost" seems to be what's under negotiation. In answer to the question, "Just how much could it possibly cost to slap an accurate Country of Origin label on a package of meat?" we have to look at how they want to determine its origins. Does any of this sound familiar?

Experts in the industry say the program comes down to a record-keeping verification program.

"The House reaffirms the labeling from the 2002 farm bill law that any domestic product to be labeled as U.S. has to be born, raised and processed in the U.S," said Derrell Peel, an Extension livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University. "That implies that we still have to have information back to the cow-calf level."

The House version says record keeping is simplified, but Peel said he can't see where.
"Even though the House version talks to simplified records, I'm still referring to the proposed rules by AMS, which make it clear
each sector has to maintain records and tie those records to the previous sector and the subsequent record," Peel said.

For the complete article, go here

Like I said, I'm not savvy as an issues commentator. But doesn't this seem to be directly connected to the push by the government to register farms and identify all animals? Wouldn't this issue directly affect the push to make such a system mandatory? Wouldn't it potentially tie the hands of non-registered farms when it comes to marketing and selling their products, if the NAIS regulations are instituted and enforced in conjunction with the proposed Country of Origin Labeling changes?

I'm all for knowing the country of origin for the meat and fish we buy. I don't want WalMart multinational mystery meat, because I don't trust WalMart and their like. I also don't want to stump for a change that will be used as a convenient platform to cement NAIS regulations and seem to make it mainstream and "necessary", removing it from voluntary to mandatory status.

Just thoughts...

I wish I had a more politically savvy brain on these issues. Every issue seems to have its complexities with different groups trying to smuggle aboard their own pet special interests.

Not sure how to reconcile these simple thoughts:
Labeling packaged meat's country of origin...good.
Using mandatory labeling of packaged meats as a means to mandate national identification regulations...ugh.

Are these really related? Any thoughts?


Phelan said...

Walmart is one of the biggest backers of NAIS, along with Cargill. Cool to be effective, would mean mandatory NAIS. What the gov doesn't seem to understand is that states already have systems in place. Kansas has one of the best disease traking systems, one that will track in less than a day. It is the farmers that make this system work. {see why I don't understand why a 48 hour tracking system would work better} Wal-mart loves China and Japan. Japan is one of the primary reasons for NAIS. They stopped allowing us to export meat to them when that one cow, the one that came her from Canada, was found to have BSE {madcow for those of you that know that term better} They want to have NAIS so that they feel safer. I say if bigag wants NAIS, they can have it for the purpose of selling overseas. The rest of us should stay as far away from it as possible. If you really want to know where your food is from, buy local and ask the farmer.

did I even answer a question?

Robbyn said...

Yes, you sure did for me. I really appreciate, it, Phelan.

farmer, vet and feeder of all animals said...

You bring up good points Robbyn, one being the link between COOL and NAIS (which I didn't catch quite the way you phrased it and will have to re think my stance on COOL).
My stance on COOL has to do with "yes, I want to know where a product (food) comes from". Knowing might also encourage people to buy local or at least U.S grown. And it also seems if you choose NOT to sell anywhere but at a local market or off your farm---COOL (and in turn NAIS) should not be required OR needed. Safe food comes from knowing where your food comes from.
Can we have "safety" without compromising democracy though? Or running small businesses (that are happy the size they are) out of business with the "cost" of safety: ie NAIS?