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Community advocates call for support of Beef Labeling Act 

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Mark Moran

(Iowa News Service) Farmers have sent hundreds of comments to their U.S. senators, urging them to support legislation to change the way beef is labeled in the country.

The American Beef Labeling Act would be a return to country-of-origin labeling rules. Four meatpacking corporations control 80 percent of the U.S. cattle market, which allows just a handful of companies to import billions of pounds of beef from other countries and label it a U.S. product.

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Ava Auen-Ryan with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement said the practice is deceptive and gives a handful of producers an outsize influence in the beef market, adding the measure would change the rules.

"Only cattle that are born, raised and processed in America can be labeled as a product of the U.S.," Auen-Ryan explained.

The country-of-origin labeling rules were originally part of the 2008 Farm Bill, but were repealed in 2015. Ryan and farm advocates want the measure to be included in the next Farm Bill, which is scheduled to be debated this month.

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Ryan argued the glaring loophole in beef labeling laws creates negative market and price conditions for American cattle farmers even as the price of hamburger, steak, and other beef products is rising sharply, along with profits of the large corporate meatpacking companies. 

"It saturates the market and undercuts what American farmers are getting paid for their cattle," Ryan contended. "At the same time that they're doing that, they are also increasing the prices in stores for consumers."

Critics have argued country-of-origin labeling could create confusion among customers and a costly, two-tiered pricing system for producers.