Following-up on my post from yesterday, here's a survey of U.S. consumers' attitudes about country of origin labelling (COOL): http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/CFA-COOL-poll-press-release-May-2013.pdf
As with most surveys related to trade, I find the approach very frustrating. It ignores key points and doesn't really get at the issues in an effective way.
Here are the three questions they ask:
Question 1: Are you in favor of requiring food sellers to indicate, on the package label, the country of origin of the fresh meat they sell—that is, where the meat came from originally?
...Question 2: Animals like cattle and hogs can be born in one country, raised in another country, and processed in a third country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing that food sellers be required to indicate, on the package label, the country or countries where each of these activities takes place. Do you favor or oppose this required disclosure?
Question 3: At present, beef products from animals born and raised in one country and processed in the U.S. are labeled simply as a product of both countries. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing that, for meat products from these animals, food sellers be required to indicate, on the package label, the country or countries where the animal was born and raised, and the fact that the meat was processed in the U.S. Do you favor or oppose this required disclosure?
The survey respondents were in favor of each of these items, with over 60% favoring "strongly," and over 20% favoring "somewhat."
I have problems with a number of aspects of these questions:
-- The first question talks vaguely about "requiring" origin labelling, but never asks whether people favor a government statute or regulation mandating these things. The other questions refer to USDA proposals, but nonetheless the nature of this as a government mandate is not made clear. As many people probably realize, here in America there is a bit of skepticism about government! If the government's role had been made clear, I can imagine the results might have been very different. I can't think of many issues where almost 90% of Americans think the government should do something!
-- Related to the first issue, there was no discussion of how the market might provide a solution to this. It has been about a year since I've done this, but I used to buy meat at the meat counter at Whole Foods. They labelled their meat, but not in the vague "Product of United States" way that the measure requires. In some cases, they actually told you what farm and what city the meat came from! Now that's useful information. You could look up the farm's web site and learn more about it. By contrast, knowing that the meat came from "the United States" or "Canada" doesn't tell me very much. Those are big places! Arguably, then, the market is already providing a better solution than is the government.
-- Of course, as anyone who has been to Whole Foods knows, there is a cost to all of this information. But that cost applies no matter why the information is being provided (market or government mandate): A government mandate that this information be provided is going to add to the price of the meat, just like it adds to the Whole Foods price. Yet the survey questions never mention that. I wonder how people might have answered if they had been told about the extra costs.
-- Finally, the questions try to sanitize things by referring to information on where the meat was "processed." As I understand the new regulation, though, the label will refer to where the animals were "slaughtered." I remain convinced that many people do not want to see the word "slaughtered" on their package of meat!
So, the survey is interesting. But I'm not sure it really gets at what U.S. consumers want to see in terms of meat labelling.