Last week, Agriculture Commissioner candidate Rickey Cole issued a press release calling on incumbent Commissioner of Agriculture Lester Spell to enforce Mississippi’s nearly five year old state law that requires retailers to label fresh and frozen beef sold in Mississippi with a label or sign that identifies the country of origin of that beef. This week, on his taxpayer funded official website, Spell issued a statement “explaining” that he had received a letter stating the USDA’s “opinion” that federal law “trumped” state law in 2003, and that “further attempts at enforcement” of the state law would have been “in direct violation of the federal law.”

“Just like with the failed Beef Plant, Lester has failed to do his job aggressively, forcefully or thoroughly, and now that we have exposed him, he is looking for someone else in government to blame,” Rickey Cole said. “One lousy letter from the USDA, and he just lay down like a whipped puppy. We need a commissioner who will fight for food safety, not just surrender to some Washington bureaucrat.”

The fact remains that the big corporate beef packers are feeding us foreign beef from Mexico, South America and who knows where else, and Spell just looks the other way. He completely abandoned any effort to enforce our state law just because he got a letter stating the USDA’s opinion? Why is this “opinion” just now being posted on his website, four years later? Why didn’t Spell fight for food safety for Mississippi consumers? If he had sounded the alarm four years ago, how many food recalls, illnesses, and even deaths could have been avoided?

What Spell fails to mention on his state-funded website is that a federal country of origin labeling law (F-COOL) was passed around the same time that he claims M- COOL was trumped by federal law. As federal law reads today, our state law is not preempted (trumped) by Federal law. Lester should have tried again.

In his undated statement, Spell tries to make us believe that F-COOL has just been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. F-COOL was passed in May of 2002 (see 7 USC sec. 1638-1638d). F-COOL has never been administered and enforced because Rep. Henry Bonilla from Texas, who was subcommittee Chairman of Appropriations for Agriculture, refused to allow any bill appropriating funds to administer this program out of his committee. Surely the large contributions he received from big corporate packers had no effect on his decisions. Bonilla was recently voted out of office at least in part because he gave lip service to the need for food safety but took the side of the corporate beef packers behind closed doors. Spell should consider Bonilla’s fate a cautionary tale.

Rickey Cole Campaign Release