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Gilles Stockton, Grass Range rancher and Northern Plains member. (Northern Plains Resource Council)

Bill to reinstate Country-of-Origin Labeling for beef, pork introduced in Montana Senate

BILLINGS, Mont. - Montana Sen. Al Olszewksi (R – Kalispell) introduced Senate Bill 206 on Monday to require country-of-origin placarding for beef and pork at retail stores in Montana. The bill would require retailers to display a placard at counters differentiating between meat that falls in three categories: 1) meat that is born, raised, and processed in the USA, 2) meat that is processed outside of the USA, and 3) meat that is only processed in the USA.Existing federal regulations allow beef and pork imported from other countries to be labeled “Product of USA” even if the meat is only processed or packaged in the United States.  

The Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots family agriculture organization, helped secure the passage of a Montana law requiring country-of-origin placarding in 2005. Montana’s COOL legislation was designed to sunset if a federal law were passed requiring country-of-origin labeling, which occurred in 2009. However, that federal law was repealed in 2015, leaving Montanans uncertain about where their beef and pork comes from.

Northern Plains is working with the Montana Cattlemen’s Association and Montana Farmers Union to reinstate COOL during the 2019 legislative session.

Placarding at the retail level, as required by SB 206, is designed to improve transparency for consumers while increasing market share for USA producers. Currently, domestic ranchers must compete against foreign producers without a reliable way to distinguish their products from those produced in Brazil or Mexico, for instance.

“Everything, including fish, vegetables, fruit, automobiles, toys, t-shirts - you name it - are labeled with country-of-origin, except for our beef and pork,” said Gilles Stockton, a Grass Range rancher and member of Northern Plains Resource Council. “Consumers have the right to know where their meat comes from, and producers deserve an honest market.”

If passed, the law would be implemented by Montana’s Department of Labor and Industry, requiring no cost or investment from ranchers.