Why aren’t Grassley and Ernst supporting MCOOL in the Farm Bill?

U.S. Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst like to rail against “unelected bureaucrats”, but they’re quick to hide behind the secretive, undemocratic World Trade Organization (WTO) when it comes to mandatory country-of-origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef.

Grassley and Ernst haven’t publicly supported MCOOL this year, but it’s time for them to get off the sidelines and get in the game. They both need to sign on to Senator Mike Rounds’ (R-SD) bipartisan letter in support of MCOOL in our next Farm Bill.

MCOOL is a simple and straightforward solution to the continued problem of cattle and beef imports. It would require all beef sold in grocery stores to have a label stating where the cattle were born, raised and processed.

This would help prevent meatpacking giants like Tyson and JBS from driving down cattle prices when they import massive amounts of beef, repackage it and then label it as a Product of the USA. MCOOL would also let consumers choose U.S. raised beef, which would support American family farmers and our local economies.

MCOOL is incredibly popular. A 2022 poll conducted by Morning Consult found that 86% of voters support it. Why would our senators not get behind a common-sense policy with such deep and broad support?

Restoring MCOOL would benefit Iowa’s independent cattle farmers. When MCOOL for beef was fully implemented in 2013-2015, American cattle producers were receiving record prices for their superior beef. Then the undemocratic WTO ruled against MCOOL in 2015, and politicians like Grassley and Ernst sided with the secretive trade body and voted to repeal MCOOL.

Since then, cattle farmers have been receiving low prices and struggling to stay in business. According to USDA’s recently released Census of Agriculture, the U.S. has lost 107,000 beef cattle operations and our domestic herd has lost 2.5 million animals in the past five years.

Part of the reason so many family farmers have left the cattle business is because of cheap imports, primarily from Mexico and Central and South America. In 2023 alone, the U.S. imported nearly 2 million beef cattle and more than 3 billion pounds of boxed beef. Giant meatpackers use imported beef to drive down prices paid to family farmers. That’s not right!

Many imports are already covered by MCOOL. Imported fruits and vegetables are required to show what country they came from. Our clothing has country of origin labeling. Why are corporate meatpackers able to get by without labeling their imported beef? Is it because they have a lot of political influence with our elected officials? The voting public needs to weigh-in on this issue.

That’s why family farmers like me and members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) are contacting Senators Grassley and Ernst, telling them to get on board with MCOOL. They can restore it during the Farm Bill being negotiated in the Senate right now. Grassley and Ernst should sign the bipartisan letter that Senator Rounds is circulating, and then lead the charge for fair and competitive markets. It’s the right thing to do for family farmers, consumers and our local communities.


Barbara Kalbach is a 4th generation family farmer, Registered Nurse, and board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Barb can be reached at barbnealkalbach@gmail.com.


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