Texas cattle interests are watching who will blink first – the beef industry or the Obama administration, which is asking that packers and retailers go beyond meat-label rules that take effect March 16 and voluntarily spell out the countries where a steer was born, raised and slaughtered.
If they don't go along, Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack warned in a Feb. 20 letter that he might decide that the rules for multiple countries of origin be modified, a lengthy process that critics say could disrupt the market.
The beef industry is worried because the new country-of-origin labeling guidelines, known as COOL, took six years to hammer out.
Buyers of Mexican and Canadian cattle are particularly upset about the request.
"We recently met with our Mexican counterparts, and they are threatening to have the border locked down," said Jason Skaggs, an Austin official with the Fort Worth-based Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.
He said many of his members import Mexican steers, whose prices have already been discounted and might get hurt further by Vilsack’s request.
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