July 8, 1999
Next we'll hear from Marvin Shurley, the American Meat
MR. SHURLEY: I'm Marvin Shurley, I'm president of the American Meat Goat Association, and I would like to thank this USDA-USTR panel for allowing us a chance to speak today.
We're very much a fledgling industry here in American agriculture, and I feel one of the best things possibly that the USDA could do to boost foreign and domestic sales of our American produced meats would be to implement a mandatory country of origin labeling on meat in the U.S., and to also implement a certification program identifying meat produced here in the U.S. as an American produced commodity.
U.S. Products of every type are recognized throughout the world as some of the finest available on the market. While manufacturers have the luxury of being able to stamp their products "Made in the U.S.A." or "Made in America" on the assembly line, cattle, sheep, and goat producers don't have this advantage. We send our product out the gate as an unfinished product and it goes to a processor at that time. This is why a USDA program certifying meats as being of American origin is so important to us producers.
The United States Department of Agriculture personnel and not the American producers themselves are the ones who are there on the lines with their stamps, and stamped carcasses, I feel, along with package labeling would help us identify our domestic product as having -- being American in origin.
The United States Department of Agriculture inspection is recognized worldwide as one of the most stringent protocols in place to ensure safe food supplies for the consumer. These inspection standards, along with a program identifying U.S. produced beef as such, has led to increased beef sales in a test marketing at HEB Food Stores in Mexico City, Mexico locations, even though price per unit/pound is higher than their domestic product. This happened in a country that over 30 percent of their average annual income is required to purchase their food for the year. In actuality, it's about 34 percent of income in Mexico is required to purchase just their food supply for the year.
The fact that this can take place in a country that such a high percentage of their income is required to purchase their food demonstrates to me how readily foreign consumers will purchase a product of the United States of America when they know it is such.
This practice of identifying our U.S. meat products I truly believe will benefit all segments of agriculture involved in domestic production of slaughter stock, regardless of species, whether it's beef, lamb, pork, goat, or poultry, and, as such, has great potential for increasing worldwide demand for our domestic product. This, in turn, I feel will lead to an increase in export demands and would ultimately benefit producers across the entire spectrum of the U.S. agricultural industry , whether they're producing feed grains or I think all aspects of it.
MR. GALVIN: Thank you. This country of origin labeling issue is the issue that Commissioner Combs raised with us this morning over breakfast, and I can tell you I was very impressed to hear about her efforts in the state to try to encourage some sort of, you know, positive voluntary labeling in terms of, you know, product of the State of Texas and all that. And I think it's very encouraging to see efforts like that, because I think it does allow U.S. producers, in a positive way, to call attention to the quality and other positive aspects of what they produce.
MS. COMBS: I would just like to add that I have raised this country of origin labeling a lot. I am in favor, but I do not control Congress. As I said at breakfast, the only thing I can do is suggest that we label our stuff here. We think what we do in Texas is pretty fantastic, and if I can stick a sticker on every fruit, every vegetable, every piece of meat we have here, I think people in Texas, by showing what we have, 90 percent of them will buy Texas. If I can't get the guys in Washington to do it, maybe we can do it with your help.
MR. SHURLEY: We would appreciate that. Our industry is largely a Texas-based industry, but we do represent producers throughout the United States. And we feel it would serve the American consumer to have these products identified as having been produced here in the United States. Right now, a lot of consumers are unaware when they buy a USDA-inspected meat that it wasn't produced here in the U.S. The imported beef carcasses and everything else that comes in stamped USDA-inspected, they say USDA-inspected product in the grocery case and they believe it's a product of the United States of America.
MS. COMBS: That happened with the lamb guys in particular. I mean, we've got carcasses coming in from New Zealand or Australia and it's ruled with a USDA Choice Grade sticker.
MR. SHURLEY: Yes. And like I say, we're a fledgling industry. We're really in our infancy; about six years in development is all we are. Right now we aren't producing for an exportb it on the imports, imports in the last four years have risen about 83 percent, primarily from the countries of Australia and New Zealand.
And we would also like to enjoin the panel to possibly consider introducing a quota system or something on imported meats at the upcoming negotiations. We're one of the few agricultural commodities that has absolutely no tariff or quota for Texas in any way in the U.S. Trade Policy.
MS. BOMER-LAURITSON: I have aquestion and a comment. And forgive my ignorance. But what is the end use for meat goat? Do you eat like to beef or lamb?
MR. SHURLEY: It is developed into a -- where USDA has just come out with their IMPS, their Institutional Meat Purchasing Specification program, which will actually -- finally defines what specific sizes of goats are and will actually determine the cuts of them. Up until this time, a goat was a goat whether it was this big or this big, and there was really no set USDA standards or anything to have case-ready products for the consumer to purchase in the grocery store.
Like I say, it's an industry that's in its development. And that IMPS program comes out with a 60-day comment period, I believe the first of August is what it's going to be.
MS. BOMER-LAURITSON: You called for some kind of a certification program for U.S. origin meat. And I think that the Agricultural Marketing Service does have such a program on a voluntary -- I believe on a voluntary basis. But that might be something to pursue. I'm not sure exactly whether it's applicable to all meat or is restricted, but that might be something to pursue.
MR. SHURLEY: Yes. Thank you.
MR. GALVIN: Just to clarify one point, if I can. And not that you stated otherwise, but in terms of imported meat, I think it should be made clear that all imported meat, when it's imported currently, is labeled that it's imported when it arrives in U.S. ports. But the issue before Congress I think right now, and before USDA, is whether or not that labeling in some form should stay with the product all the way to the end consumer. And if that imported product is packaged for retail sale, then it does have to maintain that identity as an imported product.
But the real debate right now over labeling of imported product really has to do with imported, you know, bulk or similar type meat that comes in that is perhaps processed or, you know, somehow further handled before it's sold at retail. And that's really where the debate is centered right now.
MR. SHURLEY: Yes. Unfortunately - or I should say fortunately - goat meat won't fall into one of those categories. Because there's no way it's ever sold at this time as a blended product like some of your beef products are, where you have products from two or three different countries that are blended together in batches to produce a consistent product. And it's really -- it would be real easy to identify it through the end point of sale as to country of origin if the mandatory labeling was enacted.
MR. GALVIN: Okay. Thank you very much.
MR. SHURLEY: Thank you-all.