The National Farmers Union (NFU) asked US President Donald Trump to “act in the best interests” of cattle ranchers by reinstating country-of-origin labelling (COOL) talks with NAFTA members Canada and Mexico.
COOL requirements for beef and pork were rolled back in 2015 during the Obama administration, despite industry opposition to the move. But after Trump’s team signalled a desire to renegotiate NAFTA, the NFU put forward its argument for a trade deal to protect independent beef producers from globalisation.
“[NAFTA] has robbed American producers of the opportunity to proudly stand behind their product and denied consumers the right to know where their food comes from,” said NFU president Roger Johnson in the letter to President Trump.
“As you renegotiate NAFTA, we urge you to act in the best interest of American farmers, ranchers and consumers and restore the United States’ sovereignty over farm and food policy.”
In the one-and-a-half page letter to the leader of the free world, Johnson claimed the repeal of COOL laws “undermines independent cattle producers” and stops shoppers from knowing “what is in their food and where it is produced”.
The NFU claimed the US beef industry was consolidating – something that is hurting small businesses. Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS and National Beef control 85% of the US beef market, rising from 69% in 1990, according to the NFU.
Johnson did not name the companies directly but criticised “four beef packers” which, he claimed, “take advantage” of NAFTA rules allowing companies to work across borders.
“NAFTA provisions essentially encourage companies to shop for the cheapest production costs,” he said. “Because of this, companies often raise cattle in Mexico and Canada and then bring the cattle back to the US for slaughter and sale.”
An NFU spokesperson later confirmed the four companies Johnson referred to were Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS and National Beef.
Official talks to renegotiate NAFTA can start on 16 August 2017. US officials have not confirmed if a date to open discussions has been agreed as yet.