By Laura Bardot
The topic for this month’s article came as I was chowing down on a Hardee’s burger in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Strange, I know, but hear me out. I was traveling with my sister through southern Kansas when we stopped for food at a truck stop. As I was eating, I was thinking about the Brazilian raw beef ban and the beef industry urging President Donald Trump to reinstate a trade agreement to export U.S. beef to China.
Growing up on of a beef cattle operation, I always knew where my hamburger and roasts came from; it was either my sister’s extra show steer or Fluffy, the old cow in the field that just so happened to travel to a farm “up North.”
When I was older and realized that cows don’t travel, it was clear to me that the cows we were raising were the ones that ended up on my family’s dinner plates. However, when we would go to the grocery store, I never thought about where the meat in the refrigerated section came from. It never occurred to me that the beef could have come from another farm in a different state, let alone a different country.
Global differences in raising beef cattle
Around the world, beef cattle are raised differently than in the U.S.; from India where cows are sacred, to the huge ranches in Brazil, the different approaches to farming amaze me. Brazil’s farms are expanding, and ranchers are starting to raise cows in mountains and valleys. Australia is one of the world’s largest beef cattle exporters.
According to the USDA, U.S. beef production is set to increase by 4% in 2017. Also, exports are to increase as well, by 3% to 9.7 million pounds in Asia.
So I ask you? Whether it is at the grocery store's refrigerated section or the fast-food drive-thru, do you know where in the world your beef is coming from?
Several fast-food companies explain where they are sourcing their beef from on their websites. For example, McDonald’s has a great question-and-answer section on its site explaining that it mainly sources its beef from the U.S. The site also explains the company imports USDA-inspected beef from New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
No more COOL for beef
As of now, the mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) is no longer in effect for ground beef, pork or whole beef and pork muscle cuts. Companies with these products can voluntarily label the country of origin, but it is no longer mandatory. However, according to the USDA, there are other food products covered by the COOL law. Those products include “muscle-cut and ground meats: lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts; and ginseng.”
Trading, imports and exports help stimulate our economy here and abroad. No matter where in the world our beef is coming from, I know that the majority of my food has traveled around the world more than I ever will. Another interesting thing to ponder is how far my family's beef has traveled. Perhaps it has ended up on somebody's dinner plate across the world.
Bardot is a University of Missouri science and agricultural journalism student. Email her at [email protected]