House Ag Committee Misses Opportunity on HB 350
HELENA – Montana consumers still won’t know for sure where their meat comes from, after the House Agriculture Committee voted to table a bill that would have created more truth in labeling.
Currently, imported meat can be labeled “Product of the USA” if it has been packaged in the United States. The Montana Country of Origin Placarding Bill, sponsored by Frank Smith from HD 31, would have required retailers to post a placard by beef and pork indicating to the best of their knowledge the meat’s origin.
Tuesday, the bill was killed in committee on an 8-11 vote and was subsequently tabled by a voice vote.
“I believe that Montana led the nation in 2005 when we passed the country of origin placarding bill and put it into effect. I believe we could have led the nation again, but members put their party politics ahead of their constituents,” Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer said.
“I appreciate the efforts of Representative Frank Smith and my own representative James Bergstrom for fighting the good fight and trying to protect their neighbors, family and friends and giving them the choice to buy U.S. beef instead of foreign beef,” Schweitzer said.
Committee members who voted to pass the bill out of committee were: Democrats Dave Fern, Bob Carter, Melissa Romano, Frank Smith, Katie Sullivan, Marvin Weatherwax and Republicans James Bergstrom and Paul Green.
Committee members who voted to kill the bill were: Republicans Josh Kassmier, Marty Malone, Julie Dooling, Fred Anderson, Kenneth Walsh, Tony Brockman, Brad Barker, Casey Knudsen, Braxton Mitchell, Greg Kmetz, and Zack Wirth.
Rep. Sullivan from HD 89 said she recognizes the complexity of the issue.
“But I do think sometimes we need to start moving things forward and trying to find a solution,” she said in support.
Despite widespread support for the bill from members of Montana Farmers Union, Montana Cattlemen’s Association, Montana Organic Association, National Farmers Organization, Northern Plains Resource Council, Montana farmers and ranchers, and overwhelming consumer interest in knowing where their meat comes from, other Ag organizations spoke against the bill.
Montana Stockgrowers Association and Montana Farm Bureau Federation representatives opposed HB 350. The Montana Chamber of Commerce and the Montana Retailers Association also lobbied against COOL for consumers.
Proponents of the measure testified last week that it would help give Montana ranchers a fair shake in the market for their premium products.
“I believe truth in labeling matters, as it carves a path to increased market prices and fairness for ranchers. Truth in labeling matters – for my family, for consumers, for food security, and for Montana,” Samantha Ferrat told committee members during the bill’s hearing last week.
Ferrat grew up on a hog operation and now ranches with her husband John Ferrat, who called HB 350 a step in the right direction to creating more fair markets.
Beef and pork imports have increased in recent years, and the product can be easily labeled “Product of the USA” after being packaged stateside, John Ferrat said.
“If that isn’t fraud, I don’t know what is,” he said.
As long as labeling remains ambiguous, making ends meet in a fair market becomes more and more elusive.
“Allowing these deceptive practices that drive down market prices for our cattle makes the future for my son and our ranch shaky and uncertain,” he added.
Tuesday’s vote is disappointing, but MFU will continue to fight for consumers and ranchers, Schweitzer said.
County of origin labeling also is being discussed at a national level, with the bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act that is co-sponsored by Montana Senator Jon Tester and republican senators Mike Rounds, John Thune, and Cynthia Lummis, along with democratic senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker.
“MFU is going to take the fight to Washington, D.C., and I’m optimistic for the bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act that is co-sponsored by our own Senator Jon Tester with republican support,” Schweitzer said.
To learn more about country of origin labeling, visit https://montanafarmersunion.com/support-cool/.