Mark Gibson/AP

Mexico Reverses Meat-Shipment Ban for Some US Plants

December 31, 2008 08:59 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
According to the USDA, Mexico will resume receiving shipments from 20 out of 30 American meat plants that were banned due to sanitary issues.

Banned Meat to Be Reinstated

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed the news on Tuesday, after USDA and Mexican officials said on Monday that 20 American meatpacking plants would resume shipments to Mexico. Thirty meat plants that produce beef, pork and poultry were banned from shipping their goods to Mexico last week after sanitary issues arose over packaging, labeling and transportation.

Some of the approved plants include Tyson Foods Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc., JBS and Cargill Inc., according to a list released by the United States Department of Agriculture.

“The Mexican news is particularly beneficial for Smithfield Foods given its greater exposure to pork and vertical integration,” Stephens Inc. food analyst Farha Aslam said Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Background: “Mexican Ban on US Meat Caps Tense Month of Continental Trade Debates”

Last week, Mexico announced a ban on meat imported from 30 U.S. slaughterhouses at the end of a month of protests and debate over food safety and labels of origin.

The meat ban, initiated without a clear explanation this week, caps a tense month of protest from Canada and Mexico regarding the passage of the Country of Origin Labeling Law (COOL), which requires agriculture products sold in the United States to include their location of origin.

The law also requires additional documentation for meat products coming from outside of the United States, leading the NAFTA partners to suggest the process is costing them millions and unfairly excluding foreign meat.

Although both Mexican officials and USDA representatives insist the ban has nothing to do with the COOL protests, which have led both Canada and Mexico to lodge official complaints with the World Trade Organization, some have suggested the timing makes the connection difficult to ignore.

Short of offering a firm explanation about why Mexico banned the meat, officials have pointed to charges of unsanitary conditions and “possible pathogen findings” as the cause for concern.

However, food contamination cases in recent years have changed the political landscape, making labels of origin a more pressing and universally popular idea among legislators.

Opinion & Analysis: Toothless protectionism?

Reflecting many similar debates in the past, recent protest surrounding the COOL laws has resulted in charges of economic protectionism.

“Under the veil of food safety, country of origin labeling came forward,” Ed Stelmach, premier of Alberta, Canada, told the Calgary Herald. “And you know, it’s one thing to put a label on a steak and say, well this one is from Alberta, and this one is from Mexico and this one is from the United States. But I ask you today, how do you label a Campbell’s soup can?”

Seattle PI’s Andrew Schneider warns that despite the implementation of the long debated COOL rules, consumers should still be wary of what they buy due to a host of what he sees as loopholes.

Pointing to rules allowing any food combined with one other product to escape the demand for a label, Schneider argues that those fighting the COOL rules ultimately got their way.

Key Players: Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America

One of the leading proponents of the COOL rules, earning them little support from foreign food producers, has been the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America.

Pitting them against meatpackers, processors and retailers, the Fund’s legal actions have framed the argument about the COOL rules as an issue of consumer safety and choice.

“Consumers should be able to choose, but meatpackers and retailers do not want consumers to exercise choice,” Fund CEO Bill Bullard told The Natural Food Merchandiser. “They would rather continue to source their products from other countries.”

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