The Planted Row: Reasons to know the origin of your food

Farm Forum

I like to know where my food comes from. To be honest, I’d love for it to always be local. My taste buds can usually tell if something is locally grown. The difference between a tomato grown in my backyard and a tomato grown in Mexico is staggering. Likewise, I can usually taste the difference between a tomato grown in the U.S. versus a tomato grown out of the country.

My grandfather had a small peach orchard, some apple trees, plum trees, blueberry bushes, and grape vines in addition to the large garden he planted every year. As our farm transitioned into vegetable production, I had an excellent supply of fresh produce. In short, I was very spoiled, and I became a fruit and veggie snob.

One time in Anchorage, Alaska, some friends and I were eating lunch at a restaurant specializing in classic American cuisine. After we finished our main course, the server came by and tried to sell us on dessert. She said, “We have a delicious, homemade peach cobbler.” Now, peach cobbler, done correctly, is one of my favorite desserts, and it isn’t often offered in Alaska for the simple fact that the state is a long way from a peach tree. Excited, I asked, “Is it made from real peaches?” My friends all started laughing, and the server had a funny look on her face. “Yes…” she replied, “The peaches are real.” Realizing my mistake, I rephrased my question to ask whether the peaches came from a can. Sadly, the answer was “Yes.” To this day, I maintain that canned peaches are not real peaches.

While I’m interested in freshness and taste, my wife is concerned about food safety. For instance, she refuses to buy grapes grown in Chile because she believes that country has fewer regulations governing what farmers can spray on produce.

I think these are valid reasons for consumers to know the origin of their food. I think most people would agree with me, and that’s probably why Congress passed laws requiring certain fresh foods to be labeled with their countries of origin. This is called country of origin labelling (COOL).

For the most part, meat processors are against COOL because the recordkeeping and the effort to separate livestock according to its country costs them more money which could lead to increased meat prices. Allegations from Canada and Mexico brought the issue before the World Trade Organization (WTO). Those countries say COOL isn’t fair to their producers because it makes meat processors less likely to buy their livestock.

If you read the story on the front page of this paper, you’ll know that the World Trade Organization (WTO) made a final decision on Monday that COOL on certain cuts of red meat is unfair to livestock producers in other countries. By Tuesday, legislation to repeal COOL had been introduced in Congress. If the COOL law isn’t changed or repealed, the U.S. could be subject to retaliatory tariffs imposed on trade by Mexico and Canada.

I think it’s unfair that our international trade obligations are preventing U.S. producers from distinguishing their products from others on the market and from building a brand and quality standards around that product. The WTO prevents them from using those powerful marketing tools. In a recent news release, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Philip Ellis said COOL is “generally ignored by consumers.” Well, Mr. Ellis, I can tell you that it isn’t ignored by this consumer.

Contest winner

This week’s Farm Forum 50th anniversary cash giveaway contest winner is Jeremiah Anderson of Roscoe, S.D. He will receive a replica windmill and is eligible to win the $5,000 cash grand prize. Prizes are mailed at the end of each month.