Beef Industry Debates Labeling Law

With consumers nervous about mad cow disease (search), a group of American cattle ranchers wants mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef.

"Meats aren't labeled. Just because you buy USDA Choice steak doesn't mean it's from the U.S.," says Leo McDonnell of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Legal Fund (search).

Nearly 90 percent of consumer products in the United States — such as toys, clothing and produce — include information on where they were manufactured. But that isn't the case for meat.

"Just label it and let the consumers make their choice," McDonnell says.

Supporters say the Country of Origin Labeling law, or COOL, will provide consumers with important information.

Critics, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (search), say its $2 billion price tag is merely an expensive marketing tool for a product that is already inspected for mad cow disease, medically known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (search) or BSE.

"Consumers want to buy a safe product, and that safety is best assured by a science-based, fact-based inspection system, which we have," insists Bryan Dierlam of the NCBA.

The COOL law was supposed to go into effect last September for beef, pork and lamb, but Congress postponed it for two years to research the costs and benefits.

"We'd put that thing in place tomorrow if it was written differently," Dierlam says.

Mandatory labeling doesn't start until September of 2006. Until then, the system remains voluntary.

Click on the video box above for a complete report by FOX News' Carol McKinley.