In a defeating vote of 21-13, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association saw their state country-of-origin bill fail the South Dakota Senate last week.
Sen. Lance Russell of Fall River County brought the bill, which was designed to revise meat labeling requirements already held by the state.
A state law dating back to 1964 says foreign meat must be labeled in South Dakota grocery stores or responsible persons risk a Class 2 misdemeanor charge. Currently there is no evidence this law has been enforced in recent years.
The Stockgrowers lobbied to amend the code so the law would read that a placard in a beef display case must declare the country of origin. The charge for failing to do so was lessened to a petty offense.
“Any beef or ground beef verified as originating in the United States shall bear a placard declaring it to be a product of the United States of America. Any beef or ground beef determined to be of imported or mixed origin shall bear a placard declaring the country or countries of origin. If the origin of any beef or ground beef cannot be determined, the product shall bear a placard that denotes the origin as, unknown, or as, country of origin unknown,” reads Section 3 of the bill.
SB 135 was heard on Feb. 21 with lengthy debate heard from supporters and opponents. An amendment, introduced by Sen. Ryan Maher from Isabel, was made to help strengthen the bill. It required data to be collected for two years to see what effect, the origin placard may or may not have had on beef sales and cattle prices in the state.
Cattle market prices were a large factor in why supporters believed a country-of-origin placard could be beneficial. After two years of steadily dwindling prices and volatile cattle markets, producers are looking for ways to bolster price per head. The Stockgrowers and sponsors of SB 135 believed giving consumers knowledge about the origin of their beef would help U.S. beef prices.
There were also a few senators that acknowledged they themselves like to know where their beef comes from and could see the value to consumers.
Opponents of the bill questioned if there would be federal preemption since there currently is no country-of-origin laws in effect at the national level.
In a ruling by the World Trade Organization, it was found that country-of-origin labeling at the national level violates trade sanctions and so the U.S. dropped its labeling requirements.
Federal laws preempt state laws and so a federal court can require a state to stop certain behavior if it believes it interferes or conflicts with federal law.
Sen. Gary Cammack of Union Center spoke against the bill because it was mandatory and not voluntary. He also questioned the enforcement.
“We have a 1964 law that basically says the same thing. Who will check and enforce this one?” he asked in floor discussion.
Had the bill passed, the South Dakota Animal Industry Board (AIB) – which conducts state meat inspections – would have been the authorized agency.
In an interview, Dusty Oedekoven, Executive Secretary of AIB, says the AIB board took no position in favor or against the bill, but he knows carrying out the bills wishes would have fallen to he and his staff.
When questioned about what the administering of the country-of-origin law would possibly cost, he didn’t know but did say it would likely be done as “complaint-based inspection.”
“We have more than 200 licensed retailers in South Dakota that can cut up primal cuts and repackage them for in-store sale. We have inspectors for those retailers and this would have fallen to them,” Oedekoven says of the law’s requirements.
Also opposing the bill was the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Retailers Association and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture. When asked after the Senate vote for a comment on why the agricultural department didn’t back SB 135 its official statement was, “Country-of-origin labeling has been tried at a national level and has been found to be unworkable. We had no reason to believe that the outcome would be any different in South Dakota should SB 135 have passed.”
Gary Deering, a western South Dakota rancher and vice president of the Stockgrowers, is disappointed in the bill’s outcome.
“Obviously we were for the bill and pretty excited about it. It was straightforward, and about as nice and pleasant as you could get,” Deering says of the bill.
Today’s national meat labels contain nutritional information, cooking guidelines and sanitation protocols. Companies and grocery stores are allowed to put their own brand labels on the packages. Deering says a placard designating country of origin wouldn’t hinder but likely strengthen those labels.
He acknowledges there was doubt from some of the senators on what, if any, push back or lawsuits may have been seen from the federal level if implemented.
“I need to do more research and talk to more lawyers, but I believe it would have been an added way to increase the value of our beef product,” Deering reflects.
SB 135 was also supported by South Dakota Farmers Union, Dakota Rural Action and the South Dakota Livestock Auction Markets Association.
Meat Labels in Wyoming
In related news, a bill that would have required beef to be subject to country-of-origin labeling in Wyoming – House Bill 198 – died after not being heard in the House Committee of the Whole.