Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Jun 25 2015

Heitkamp Pushes for Path Forward for Country of Origin Labeling During Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing

Senator Introduces ND Rancher Leo McDonnell to Testify at Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp reinforced her support for Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and her backing of a solution which continues to provide consumer information and support for ranchers in North Dakota and across the country.

Heitkamp spoke about the importance of finding a path forward for COOL – a law which requires retailers across the country to clearly label where meat was born, raised and processed. Last month, a ruling from a World Trade Organization (WTO) Appellate Body found that COOL does not comply with international trade commitments. Heitkamp noted that the law helps U.S. consumers make informed decisions about the meat they’re feeding their families, and supports ranchers across North Dakota as they compete with foreign producers. Today, Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) released a discussion draft for compromise legislation, that Heitkamp supports, which would repeal mandatory COOL and replace it with a voluntary system, preserving the integrity of the “Product of the U.S.” label. During the hearing, Heitkamp introduced Leo McDonnell to testify before the Committee, a rancher from the North Dakota Badlands between Marmath and Rhame who, along with his wife Debra, run registered Angus herds in Bowman and near McKenzie.

“North Dakota families want to know where the meat they buy and serve on their dinner tables is coming from,” said Heitkamp. “We know that after the recent World Trade Organization ruling, changes are necessary to Country of Origin Labeling, but the fact still remains that this law is too important to consumers, ranchers, and farmers to simply repeal it outright. We need to work together to find a compromise and a path forward for Country of Origin Labeling that protects the industry, provides the information families are looking for, and still meets our nation’s trade obligations.”

“Country of Origin Labeling is a commonsense law that is vital to the continued economic success of ranchers in North Dakota and throughout the U.S.,” said McDonnell. “As a rancher in southwest North Dakota and a consumer, I know first-hand the desire to know the origin of one’s food. We must preserve the significant investment that the industry has made in labeling and promoting U.S.-born, raised, and processed products, and a full repeal is out of the question. I want to thank Senator Heitkamp for her tenacious leadership on this issue, and I’ll continue to stand with her as we push for a way forward on Country of Origin Labeling.”

Heitkamp has been a vocal leader in supporting COOL and has worked closely with North Dakota ranchers to seek solutions that make the most sense for the state. Last November, she called on U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to support COOL and appeal a WTO decision which would harm U.S. consumers’ ability to know where their food originates.

Heitkamp beat back efforts to repeal COOL when she helped write, negotiate, and pass into law the 2014 Farm Bill. Last October, Heitkamp joined a group of bipartisan Senators urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to reject efforts to weaken or suspend COOL in any future appropriations bills or continuing resolutions. In February 2013, Heitkamp helped lead a bipartisan group of Senators in calling on USTR and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure updated COOL rules still enabled consumers to know the origin of their food.

###

Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov