Country of origin food labeling law will impact consumers, farmers

US - A "cool" law that got the cold shoulder from Congress is heating up again. Some lawmakers believe consumers have the right to know they're eating meat produced in America, and are trying to re-instate a law --- included in the 2002 Farm Bill but never implemented --- to do just that.

Supporters of country of origin labeling, otherwise known as COOL, say it will boost consumer confidence and fatten the wallets of livestock farmers by creating more demand for U.S. meat.

Opponents believe COOL will cost too much money for little or no benefit. They don't believe most consumers are willing to pay the cost of program, which will be passed on by processors. Opponents think it is too burdensome for packers and farmers.

Under COOL, all muscle cuts of beef (including veal), lamb and pork; ground beef, lamb and pork; farm-raised and wild fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities like fruits and vegetables and peanuts must be labeled at retailers to indicate their country of origin.

Food service entities are exempt from the law as well as meat lockers. Only retailers selling more than $230,000 of these items need to comply.

COOL was supposed to be implemented in September 2004, but Congress delayed it twice by not appropriating funds to write the legislation. Its implementation would be funded by the food industry. Currently, COOL is slated to go into effect in 2008.

That's unacceptable to Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley, Iowa's U.S. senators. They co-sponsored a bill late last month with 10 other colleagues to enforce the law next year.

"Three years ago we put COOL in the Farm Bill because consumers demanded more information about the foods they eat, and producers wanted to add value by informing consumers of the origin of food products," Harkin said.

calendar icon 19 December 2005
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