Senate Committee Considers COOL Bill

HELENA — Lawmakers on the Montana Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee heard public testimony Thursday from ranchers and retailers about a bill requiring stores to use country of origin placards for beef and pork.

Senate Bill 210, or the “Country of Origin Placarding Act of 2021,” would make retailers tell customers what country the pork and beef they sell comes from. If the retailer doesn’t know where the meat comes from, they would have to put a sign up saying so. Country of Origin Labeling is often referred to by its acronym —  COOL. 

Proponents hailed the bill as a powerful form of consumer protection. Ranchers from across the state said the current federal opt-in country of origin labeling misleads consumers. Peter Mickelsen owns a cattle ranch near Lewistown. 

“The point is this,” Mickelsen said, “COOL is an important cog in the policy wheel to improve the market for our superior produced beef.” 

Other proponents said forcing grocers to label the country of origin for beef and pork could save their struggling ranches. Jeanie Alderson is the chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council. 

“Our industry is quietly dying,” Alderson said. “And while ranchers are going out of business, Brazilian owned meat packer JBS reported 3rd quarter profits for 2020 that grew by 770%.” 

She was one of 15 proponents. 

Six opponents spoke against the bill, some pointing out that tracking down where cattle come from would be a nightmare. Casey Mott is a rancher in Custer, who had to delay his testimony because one of his cows was having a calf. 

At the time of writing this story, the calf was alive.

Mott said it would be impossible to track his cattle when they hit the market.

“My calves are going to go to Minnesota, to Missouri, to Massachusetts,” Mott said “They’re going all over the country.”

The House Agriculture Committee tabled a bill by the same name earlier this month. 

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

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