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Court Ruling On Meat Labeling Debated In Cattle Business

July 31, 2014, 6:02 PM by Kevin Woster

Court Ruling On Meat Labeling Debated In Cattle Business

A federal appeals court decision this week upheld a law requiring meat products to be labeled with information on their origin.

Cattle producers are split over how the ruling will affect those who raise beef and those who buy it.

In this case, the question isn't, Where's the beef? It's where it's been that matters, says Justin Tupper, manager of the St. Onge Livestock market in St. Onge.

"I think that's the sense that we've learned in the industry in the retail side, that people do want to know where their food comes from," Tupper says. "We've seen that in a lot of these chain stores, that people like it and they'll pay more for it."

Tupper was speaking for the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, whose members believe U.S. beef producers benefit by detailed labeling.

"It sure isn't saying that our friends north of the border don't have good beef or that our friends south of the border don't," Tupper says. "It's just saying that we should be able to decide, you and I, which one you'd like to eat. And you should be able to know."

But not everyone in the cattle industry is happy with the court decision, or its potential impacts."

The South Dakota Cattlemen's Association opposes the law -- in particular the rules imposed by federal regulators for highly detailed labeling information. Association past president Jeff Smeenk of Newell fears that added production costs will hit both consumers and beef producers.

"Previously they just had to put product of, and now the ruling is where it was born, where it was raised and where it was slaughtered," Smeenk says. "And we just think that would add too much cost to the production line. And that cost would actually trickle down to the producer."

Smeenk also worries about angering foreign trade partners who support the strong market prices that help cattle producers closer to home.

"International trade is why beef prices are the way they are today, or a big part of why they are the way they are," Smeenk said. "So we just don't want to interfere with that at all."

While country of origin labeling has been winning in federal court, it faces other challenges. Canada and Mexico have taken their opposition to the U.S. meat labeling program to the World Trade Organization, which hasn't ruled on their complaints.

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