An orthopedic surgeon from Kalispell wants to stretch Montana’s law to mandate country of origin signs at stores selling products from livestock and poultry “born and raised” in the United States. He also wants to restrict language regarding “cell-cultured edible products.”

The Montana Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to hear the measure, Senate Bill 206, tomorrow at 3 p.m. The sponsor, state Sen. Albert Olszewski, R- Kalispell, sits on the committee.

Olszewski’s “Country of Origin Placarding Act” is a 16-page bill that builds on existing Montana law for livestock and poultry products. Additional language that would become part of the law if the bill is adopted includes:

  • Terms associated with “hamburger” and “ground beef” could not be used in association with cell-cultured edible;
  • Cell-cultured edible products could not be labeled, advertised or marketed in Montana as a livestock product or labeled, advertised, or marketed by such product names as steaks, roasts, hamburger, ground beef, chops, wings, thighs, or ribs; and
  • Cell-cultured edible products labeled, advertised or marketed as livestock or poultry products would be guilty of false and misleading labeling.

Olszewski was elected to the Montana Senate in 2016. He was one of four Republicans running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, but he lost the state’s primary. A Montana native with a medical degree from the University of Washington, Olszewski served as a flight and rapid mobility trauma surgeon in U.S. Air Force. He currently runs the Flathead Orthopedics Center in Kalispell.

Olszewski’s bill picks up on sentiment easy to find in Montana that favors restoring country of origin labeling (COOL). Some consumers tell pollsters COOL is about food safety.

The national COOL law was repealed by the U.S. Congress after the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against the United States in a dispute. Montana’s SB 206 attempts to find a way around that WTO ruling by requiring retailers to use placards to identify the beef, pork and poultry that is “born and raised” in the USA.

Actually, Olszewski’s bill outlines three scenarios for retailers.

  • Meat and poultry from animals and birds born, raised and processed in the United States can be identified on placards;
  • If it is processed in the United States, it can say that; or
  • If it is imported for direct retail sale in the U.S, the placard must read “processed outside the United States.”

Jim Baker of the Montana Cattlemen’s Association admits he’s hoping to stir things up with the Montana bill as a strategy for resurfacing a national COOL law.

As Congress was repealing COOL, the U.S. imported more than 3 billion pounds of beef in 2016 from places such as Canada, Australia, and Uruguay. It costs processors less to import beef, but not so consumers know it.  And, 70 percent of the “grass-fed” market segment is said to be filled by imports.

In the previous session of state legislatures in South Dakota and Wyoming considered mandatory country-of-origin-labeling bills for beef and ground beef. Those bills made it out of committees in Pierre and Cheyenne, but got no further.

And the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, or R-CALF, lost its COOL court challenge in summer 2018. It sought to bring back COOL at the national level for beef and pork, but a federal judge in Spokane tossed out the case. The Billings, MT-based cattlemen’s group has since been working for relief from trade negotiators. 

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