June 27, 2003
Statement of the
American Sheep Industry Association before the Committee on Agriculture U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C.
June 26, 2003
On behalf of the 64,000 lamb producers in the United States, we appreciate this opportunity to re-iterate our support for mandatory country of origin labeling of lamb. The long-standing policy of the association supports positive identification of the origin of lamb at retail.
The sheep industry supported the labeling provision authorized last year in the farm bill. In fact testimony provided to the committee on April 28, 1999 by ASI remains very relevant today. Mr. A.H. Denis III, representing our association, spoke of his role in our industry as a lamb producer, lamb feeder and Chairman of the Board of Ranchers Lamb of Texas (one of the largest lamb slaughter and processing companies in the U.S) and the need to label lamb meat at retail. Mr. Denis remains committed as does the national board of directors of ASI to support mandatory labeling of lamb for country of origin.
We provide for today?s hearing, key points from our comments in support of the USDA/AMS proposed rule regarding labeling of lamb.
?ASI commends USDA/AMS for developing what we believe is a workable approach for implementing voluntary COOL guidelines that should form a framework for the mandatory regulation.?
For the past decade, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) has worked toward implementing a national system that would ensure consumers? ability to accurately recognize the origin of lamb on the shelves of American supermarkets. ASI?s policy was never aimed in such a way to prevent the importation of foreign lamb ? merely to identify it at retail. Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) was designed to provide consumers with the type of assurance they already have with some food products ? in that they know where those products originated.
- Most of the major lamb companies now handle both U.S. and foreign lamb. Product blending and substitution does occur to achieve a less expensive price point without differentiation of the product origination.
- Many of the U.S. lamb companies and retailers do not label country of origin on their products.
- Consumers are willing to pay more for product labeled ?American lamb? as compared to product merely labeled ?lamb.? Therefore, the financial rewards to the U.S. sheep industry for COOL-labeled product would be substantial ? conservatively, an estimated extra $40 million annually. (This figure was generated through the utilization of data from two sources ? the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) and USDA?s Economic Research Service (ERS) ? both of which identified a 40-cent price differential between foreign ($3.90 a pound) and domestic ($4.30 per pound) product.
- The U.S. lamb industry now has the American Lamb Board to promote its product. Labeling American lamb as such will enhance the board?s promotional efforts in getting consumers to seek out and purchase American lamb.
- Implementation will be enhanced in the U.S. lamb industry due to the very small number of live lambs imported to the U.S. (typically 80,000 live lambs imported annually therefore the extreme range is 1 ? 3 percent of U.S. slaughter).
- Additionally the lamb checkoff precludes imported lamb so an audit trail exists already on imported live lambs, which are not assessed. A limited number of individuals and firms import live lambs. Since nearly all-major lamb processors participate in the USDA commodity purchase program, segregation plans are already in place if any Canadian born lambs enter the plant.
- The born, raised and slaughtered definition for U.S. origin is appropriate as that is the license requirement in place today to use the American lamb seal on packaging.
- Congress has authorized labeling and sheep leaders believe private industry will find the most economical and efficient manner to implement this legislation.
We greatly appreciate the support and leadership of the Committee on the critical agricultural issues regarding competitiveness of the farm and ranch families that produce the nation?s lamb and wool. Labeling is but one of those issues. We look forward to working with the members of the Committee on this and additional key issues facing our industry.