When grabbing a package of meat from the grocery store, have you ever noticed the label indicating where the piece of meat originated? If your answer is “no,” you’re not the only one, according to new research from Kansas State University which found most shoppers have no idea the label exists.
Still, it is this label that has ignited a controversy in the US.
In October 2014, the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico, finding the mandated country-of-origin labels in the US are not trade compliant and hurt business in nearby countries.
Specifically, the WTO concluded “the amended COOL measure increases the original COOL measure’s detrimental impact on the competitive opportunities of imported livestock in the US market, because it necessitates increased segregation of meat and livestock according to origin; entails a higher recordkeeping burden; and increases the original COOL measure’s incentive to choose domestic over imported livestock.”
The COOL law requires a label to be placed on meat packages indicating where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.
The US government is appealing the WTO’s rejection of the rule, but researchers at Kansas State University, in collaboration with Oklahoma State University, found most consumers aren’t willing to pay extra for the label.
“Less than one-third of the participants surveyed know it is a law to label where the meat originates,” says Glynn Tonsor, associate professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University. “Effectively, producers lose and consumers lose because we have not observed an aggregate demand increase in response to that origin information.”
Researchers say the labels were implemented in 2009 to provide shoppers more information about the origin of their meat. The labels were then updated in 2013. Tonsor surveyed consumers in 2009 and in 2013 and found the same results: The majority of shoppers are not interested in these labels.
“Time and time again, we find that food safety, price, freshness and taste tend to be attributes, regardless of the meat product we’re talking about, that rank highly in importance and drive purchasing decisions,” Tonsor says. “Social issues like origin, environmental impact and sustainability matter to consumers, but do not drive purchasing decisions.”
Some meat packers think Washington should let the issue die. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Bob McCan called COOL “a failed program” that could impose high costs on the beef industry and the US economy.
McCan says the rule, if implemented, would likely trigger Canadian and Mexican retaliation against American beef exports.
“Our producers have already suffered discounts and faced the closure of a number of feedlots and packing plants due to the effects of this short-sighted regulation,” McCan says.