Country of Origin Labeling and Cattle Imports

My post from back in November about the (lack of a) relationship between the repeal of mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) and cattle prices seems to have been receiving a lot of attention lately.  A main driver seems to be that Tomi Lahren, a conservative journalist with a large social media following, again promoted the idea that MCOOL was a cause of declining cattle prices in a video interview with R-CALF's CEO.  For a summary of the controversy see this article by Carrie Stadheim in the Tri-State Livestock News. 

I won't re-adjudicate my original arguments as you can read them for yourself.  However, I do want to bring some data to bear on an additional claim that has been made in relation to MCOOL and cattle prices.  The article in the Tri-State Livestock News contains a quote that seems to be attributed to me, but I said nothing of the sort.  I presume, instead, the "he" in quote below is the R-CALF CEO.  Here's the quote:

“Without COOL…meatpackers can reach out and source live cattle and beef from 20 countries, bring it into the US, sell it to unsusepecting consumers with a US inspection sticker on it, even though it comes from a foreign source and consumers don’t know the difference,” he said.

So, let's take a look at the implication of this argument.  We repeal MCOOL, and now meatpackers turn to the 20 countries and import more meat.  And, presumably, this caused the decline in cattle prices?

Well, here is USDA data on meat and veal imports to the US and on live cattle imports to the US.  The solid black line is the date of the repeal of MCOOL.

There was an uptick in live cattle imports right after repeal of MCOOL but then an even more dramatic decline.  Overall the above figure suggests no discernible impact of MCOOL on US imports of beef or cattle.  If I look at the total imports the first 11 months of 2015 prior to repeal of MOOL and compare it to the first 11 months of 2016 after the repeal of MCOOL (I use the first 11 months because the December 2016 data is not yet out), I find that, if anything, US imports of beef and cattle are, in fact, down after the repeal of MCOOL by 369 million pounds and by 297,290 head, respectively.   

Here's the thing.  Yes, it is true that: "meatpackers can reach out and source live cattle and beef from 20 countries, bring it into the US".  But, all those countries selling meat to the US can sell it instead to dozens and dozens of other countries instead.  And, why would these countries try to sell more meat to the US when prices are down in this country?  They wouldn't and the didn't.  

In any event, the point of all this isn't to argue for or against MCOOL.  Rather, I'm simply trying to make sure the claims being made about MCOOL mesh with the best evidence we have, and that evidence suggests that repealing MCOOL seems to have had very little effect on cattle prices.  Attention would be better focused on other issues to help ranchers and cattle producers who are currently experiencing financial hardship.