New federal legislation proposed by Minnesota Sen. Al Franken aims to level the playing field for dairy farmers and help consumers make more informed purchasing decisions. The bill, S.831, extends mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) to dairy products. That law went into effect last year, requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce COOL labeling on meats, produce and nuts.
Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, says Franken’s bill is great news for Minnesota dairy farmers and consumers. Despite the fact that the nation consumes more dairy products than it produces, he says dairy farmers have suffered huge losses over the past decade from competing with foreign products.
“When you are allowing foreign product into this country, and actually paying more for the foreign product than your own dairy products, there’s a problem in the marketplace. We think that identifying a country of origin on dairy will correct some of those inequities. It’s a sheer economic fact that if you know where your food comes from, you will make intelligent choices about what country you want to send your money to.”
Peterson says with less than 1 percent of food coming into this country inspected, until now, it’s been “buyer beware” with foreign dairy in the mix.
“They don’t have the same economic standards, they don’t have the same environmental standards, they certainly aren’t treating their employees on a labor standard we’re par on. There might be free trade out there, but free trade must have fair trade principals in it.”
Leveling that playing field means products must be produced at the same levels and quality, he adds. And with all the initiatives now for “buying local,” the proposed law makes sense, he says.
“Why would we be afraid of identifying local in dairy? Or from the United States, or from the countries that we’re trading with? What do those companies have to hide? Why won’t they identify where it comes from?”
The bill is currently in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.