Friday, July 3, 2015

Made in America?

first day of summer-2012
Happy Birthday, America!

Get the hamburgers and hotdogs ready and fire up the grill!

As we head into the big holiday weekend where we celebrate America by eating copious amounts of food, it’s more than a little ironic that very soon we won’t know if those food purchases will benefit our own American farmers or those elsewhere.

I'm not normally one to do a lot of flag waving. Or, for that matter, any flag waving.  I really try to keep my political opinions to myself. However, there is a change coming that will affect producers and consumers alike, and I don’t think a whole lot of people know about it. (and honestly, a whole lot don’t care…but, if you’re a label-reader, this one is for you)  

Back in 2009, after years and years of wrangling, the Country of Original Origin Labeling (otherwise known as COOL) was put into place for meat purchased in the United States. Animal protein producers in the US claimed this as a big win. When food (particularly meat) was grown in another country, the label had to say so. This gave the consumer information as to where (and perhaps how) the meat was raised.

You might not know this one---but, despite the fact that the US is the #1 beef producer in the world---all the meat consumed in this country is NOT raised in this country. A small percentage of meat is imported from countries around the world.

Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have complained that the labeling required by the US is unfair and makes it more expensive for them to compete in the global market. (meat packers aren’t fans because it means they had to keep meat from Canada and Mexico separate from US meat---causing a lot more work and storage issues)  So, now the United States faces huge fines and retaliation (in the form of tariffs on all sorts of imports to other countries) unless they drop the whole COOL deal. Being a player in the global food market definitely has its disadvantages. So, the labelling is on its way out. The House of Representatives has already voted 300-131 for its ouster. The Senate Ag Committee voted to repeal it and the final vote is nearing.

Your first thought may be SO WHAT?

This one change, despite complying with WTO standards, will upset a lot of consumers and producers and actually make it harder to make informed food choices.

Since we are such a small operation and market everything directly, this move doesn’t affect us as producers.  (in fact, it could be a positive as shoppers head toward direct marketers and local food venues) So, we really have nothing to lose. However, it does affect us as consumers and makes supporting our fellow farmers considerably more difficult.

This will affect beef producers and ranchers in this country in a negative way, making it appear that all meat is created equal (and it is not). For instance, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico are all big beef producers---and their practices are far different than those in the US. Raising food is a highly competitive market with slim profit margins. This takes away one slight advantage and will make it harder for US farmers. Personally, this doesn’t seem quite fair to our very own farmers, but that’s just my opinion.

Many consumers want the assurance that their food has been raised in this country where they are somewhat familiar and comfortable with industry standards. This change will affect those folks in that they will no longer be able to simply check the package to ascertain if their meat purchase comes from a country whose practices they feel comfortable.  Again, on a personal note, I want to know where my food comes from and how it is raised—(but, that’s another story).

By removing the Country of Original Origin from the label, information critical to making educated food choices has been lost.

There are those who are calling for the ouster of those who voted to repeal the labeling, to hold them accountable for “selling us out”.  Honestly, this isn’t as simple as it sounds.  There are lots of rules in the global marketplace and while the whole global thing means cheaper food and a more consistent supply, there are often unforeseen consequences. Non-compliance with WTO rules would result in hefty fines and tariffs on other unrelated products to other countries. And, that would have even more far-reaching negative effects on other sectors of the economy.

I dare say that this ruling will cause more concerned folks to shop at farmers’ markets and on-site farm stores. These venues will be the only places where you can be assured that you are buying US meats grown and processed in the United States. And, even then you can only be absolutely certain it is local if you are shopping a producer-only market and/or asking the farmer questions.

The vast amount of meat consumed in this country preclude this being an option for everyone.  Many farms/ranches are not set up for direct sale, nor do they wish to be.  Many consumers don’t have the time to travel to a farm for their food. Nor do they want to pay extra for the assurance. (small operations have higher per unit input costs and the end price to consumers tends to be somewhat higher) Nor should they.

I am not for one minute suggesting that the only solution is to buy local, buy small, buy organic...or whatever.  But, everyone should be aware of the change and pay attention to what they are buying…and from whom.

Ultimately, the best way to eliminate any concern is to buy directly from a farmer.  The time has come to truly KNOW YOUR FARMER, KNOW YOUR FOOD.

Honestly, that’s the only way you will truly know if you’re supporting America and our farmers.

one of our farm neighbors
(sure hope he didn't mind getting his picture taken)
Want to read more about COOL?


  1. Lord have mercy. Yet another thing to worry about. I wonder if GIANT Foods butchers will know where the meat will be coming from?
    Anyway, happy Fourth dear friend from me and jb

    1. Oh, I didn't mean to make you worried! If you're buying from the butcher (getting the meat cut right there) it's probably not an issue. The types of things made from imported products are generally those processed products.
      Enjoy your holiday!

  2. I have always believed it safest to buy food from a source you can identify. Anyone who goes for the cheapest risks all kinds of things - and doesn't get the quality or the taste. We have a very good butcher on our market wo dry cures his own bacon from his own gilt pigs. It is the best bacon I have ever tasted and although more expensive it is well worth the extra. This applies to everything in the food line in my opinion. Your food on your market stall always looks so tempting - I would be first there on a Saturday morning if I lived anywhere near!

    1. You are absolutely right about going for the cheapest.
      I, too, wish you could come to our Market...and if you did...would you bring some of that bacon? That sounds delightful!

  3. Knowing where your food comes from is sacred knowledge. We will only change the face of this system and the way our livestock is raised by informing the people of the origins as well as the practices. Thank you for this article. I am a new reader to Homestead Hill Farm but I am glad to say I am here to stay. Your knowledge and passion touch my heart. I look forward to reading more about your farm and your journey in the future.

    1. I'm glad you've come to "visit"!
      Thanks for the kind words.