Ag Secy. Vilsack urges ‘voluntary compliance’ with new COOL rules

Articles
February 24, 2009

Ag Secy. Vilsack urges ‘voluntary compliance’ with new COOL rules

Though he green lighted the new mandatory country-of-origin label (COOL) rules for implementation on March 16, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack nevertheless raised some “legitimate concerns” about them. The issues he raised in an open letter to industry were “the regulation’s treatment of product from multiple countries, exemptions provided to processed food, and time allowances provided to manufacturers for labeling ground meat product.” (All were components of the Final Rule, which was part of the 2008 Farm Bill.) His letter therefore urged industry to voluntarily adopt the following practices:

Though he green lighted the new mandatory country-of-origin label (COOL) rules for implementation on March 16, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack nevertheless raised some “legitimate concerns” about them.

The issues he raised in an open letter to industry were “the regulation’s treatment of product from multiple countries, exemptions provided to processed food, and time allowances provided to manufacturers for labeling ground meat product.” (All were components of the Final Rule, which was part of the 2008 Farm Bill.)

His letter therefore urged industry to voluntarily adopt the following practices:

    * Processors should voluntarily include information about what production step occurred in each country when multiple countries appear on the label. For example, animals born and raised in Country X and slaughtered in Country Y might be labeled as such.
    * Since the definition of processed foods may be “too broadly drafted,” he called voluntary labeling “appropriate…even if products are subject to curing, smoking, boiling, grilling or steaming.”
    * Since Final Rule language allows a ground-meat product label to bear a country’s name even if product from that country wasn’t present in a processor’s inventory for up to 60 days, he urged a reduction in the time allowance to 10 days to “enhance credibility of the label.”

Depending on industry uptake of his suggestions for voluntary action, Vilsack said USDA will “carefully consider whether modifications to the rule will be necessary to achieve the intent of Congress.”

Clearly, Vilsack wants consumers to easily obtain information about food sources, and producers to be able to differentiate their products through labeling. However, he senses, and SupermarketGuru.com concurs, there will likely be bumps in the road.

We feel the biggest roadblock is that the marketing advantages and opportunities of COOL have not been properly explained or conveyed to the leading beef producers or groups. Without a consumer focus and understanding it’s easy to see how organizations will  resist change. The time has come for the USDA and other trade groups to take the lead and show how and why COOL can be a sales-building benefit.

Another shadow on voluntary compliance is the incontrovertible fact that cows are born and bred in the U.S., then shipped to Mexico or Canada to be raised, then brought back here for slaughter. Some in the trade are rightfully concerned that a label depicting all of this will not be seen in a positive light by shoppers. One more troubling thought is that the supply of “born, bred, raised and slaughtered” in the USA might not may be able to satisfy demand, leaving independent retailers without enough product to satisfy their shoppers.