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I need some help

by Terry A. Stevenson

Editor's note: Please see the news release that follows this commentary. -- RS

(Monday, April 7, 2003 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- I need some help. I want to express my patriotism the best I possibly can. I’ve already boycotted things French. I didn’t have much trouble with French fries because that’s not what I called them. My boycott of things French may have the economic impact of a flea on an elephant, but it certainly has made me feel better.

I suppose I never really did buy all that much French stuff anyway. The cheese I’ve bought comes from Wisconsin. I may have had some French yogurt once, though, but I can’t remember for sure. So even if it hasn’t made much of an impact I’ve been able to do my small part. But now all that has changed.

I just read an article that told what New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said recently. I felt like what she said was an insult to our country, our President, and worst of all to our troops. Now this is a free country and I know that not everybody is going to react the way I do. But I want to do my part and feel better about what I do. I want to boycott things from New Zealand.

The first things that popped into my mind that come from New Zealand are lamb, kiwis and beef. The problem is that we raise this stuff in this country too. Even kiwis. Some of those come from California—that’s a part of the USA even if it sometimes seems like a foreign country.

New Zealand lamb won’t be hard to boycott because a lot of it has a label on it saying it’s from there. But if this idea catches on and there are a lot of people who won’t buy New Zealand lamb I suppose they could just jerk the label off because nobody makes them do it in the first place.

Now just to make sure how this works, I made a trip to the grocery store. Sure enough there’s a pile of kiwis there with labels on them. Some of the labels just said “kiwi #4030.” I think that’s just the store code. But others had labels with an American flag. The papaya said “Hawaiian.” The bananas said either “Costa Rica” or “Ecuador.” Other fruit had “Mexico” on it. I think I could easily avoid the New Zealand stuff.

But the beef was a different story. Every bit of it said it was USDA inspected. But I know for a fact that the USDA inspects imports. So that doesn’t tell me anything about where it came from. Not one single item in the meat case said where it was from. How can I boycott New Zealand and still buy beef?

I know there are some outfits that label their meat “USA Beef.” And according to the law if they label it that way they have to be able to document it. Now I’m not going to boycott beef. I’ll just have to shop more carefully and ask questions. Next time I’m in a restaurant I’m going to ask, “Is this USA Beef?” But I sure could use some help. It would make it easier if it all had a country of origin label.

Terry A. Stevenson lives in Wheatland, Wyoming.

Date: April 7, 2003
For Immediate Release

Steve Cady: 402.792.004

CSU Study: Consumers Will Pay More For USA Beef

Lincoln, NE ~ The Organization For Competitive Markets says a recently released consumer survey finds that consumers are willing to pay more for beef labeled "born, raised and processed in the U.S.A.", but also outlines the reasons why consumers favor country of origin labeling.

Colorado State University’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, on March 21, 2003, released its "Country Of Origin Labeling of Beef Products: U.S. Consumer’s Perceptions." Authored by Wendy J. Umberger, Dillon Feuz, Chris Calkins and Bethany Sitz, the paper was presented at the 2003 FAMPS Emerging Roles For Food Labels: Inform, Protect, Persuade Conference in Washington, DC on March 20-21.

In 2002, consumers in Chicago and Denver were surveyed to elicit their willingness to pay for country of origin labeling of beef. Survey results indicate that 73 percent were willing to pay an 11 percent and 24 percent premium for country of origin labeled steak and hamburger, respectively. During an experimental auction, participants were willing to pay a 19% premium for steaks labeled "Guaranteed USA: Born and Raised in the U.S.".

Organization For Competitive Markets (OCM) member and long-time cattleman Tom Spencer, Pueblo, CO says he doesn’t have to be a mathematician to understand what those figures mean. "This study proves what cattlemen have known for some time. The benefits of COOL are significant. As we continue to bridge the gap between producers and end consumers, more and more information is becoming available from consumers indicating they want country of origin labeling on their meat. As evidenced in this study, American consumers have a strong desire to support American cattlemen by purchasing USA born, raised and processed beef. They believe it’s a safer, more nutritious and higher quality product and they’re absolutely right. 73 percent of those surveyed say they want COOL and they’re willing to pay a fair price for it. What are we waiting for?" said Spencer.

Survey participants listed food safety, a preference for labeling source and origin information, a strong desire to support U.S. producers, and beliefs that U.S. beef was of higher quality as the most common reasons for preferring COOL.

Findings included:

  • 75% indicated they preferred to purchase a labeled product
  • 50% of those surveyed said the primary factor determining their meat-purchasing decisions is quality of the product, which they felt could be achieved when buying USA labeled beef.
  • Food safety concerns about imported beef, a preference for labels and more information about the source and origin of products, a strong desire to support U.S. producers and beliefs that U.S. beef was of higher quality were the most commonly cited rationale for preferring a label identifying country of origin of beef products.
  • On average, consumers were willing to pay an 11% premium for country of origin labeled steak.
  • Consumers surveyed were will to pay a much higher premium (24%) for country of origin labeled ground meat
  • On average, consumers ranked hamburger and steak as the beef products they would most prefer to have labeled with country of origin.

OCM President, Fred Stokes, says the CSU study provides policy decision-makers with a strong message from consumers. "OCM is currently studying exactly what these percentages translate to for cattlemen and we’ll be forthcoming with that information as our analysts provide it. My own math tells me that this will equate to billions of dollars in increased revenues. This makes even the most bloated estimates of COOL costs look paltry. Today’s modern consumer has become increasingly concerned with the quality and safety of their food and wants more than just point of purchase information. They want full disclosure and they want to be able to make purchasing decisions based on the production attributes offered by U.S. producers which COOL will provide," said Stokes.

The full text of the CSU Study can be found at http://www.competitivemarkets.com.

The Organization For Competitive Markets is a multidisciplinary, nonprofit group of farmers, ranchers, academics, attorneys, and policy makers dedicated to reclaiming the agricultural marketplace for independent farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

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