Final Rule on Country of Origin Labeling

Articles
January 13, 2009

Final Rule on Country of Origin Labeling

It was in 2002 that the debate began over whether Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) should be implemented, and now following its inclusion in the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills, the mandatory labeling requirements have been announced and will go in effect on March 16th of this year. The full text of the final rule by The United States Department of Agriculture will be published in the Jan. 15, 2009 Federal Register. The rule covers muscle cuts and ground beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (specifically fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables); macadamia nuts; pecans; ginseng and peanuts. Foods that fall under the rule must be labeled at retail, and for fish and shellfish, that means form of production – wild or farm raised. This does not include foods that are included as an ingredient. Processed foods that have undergone a chemical change such as cooking, curing or smoking are also excluded, and food service establishments such as restaurants, cafeterias, bars, lunchrooms do not have to comply. The law provides for penalties of up to $1,000 per violation, and USDA plans to make funding available to accelerate and expand training of state cooperator employees, initiate development of an automated review tracking system, conduct a retailer survey, conduct audits of the retail supply chain and continue conducting education and outreach activities.

It was in 2002 that the debate began over whether Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) should be implemented, and now following its inclusion in the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills, the mandatory labeling requirements have been announced and will go in effect on March 16th of this year.  The full text of the final rule by The United States Department of Agriculture will be published in the Jan. 15, 2009 Federal Register.

The rule covers muscle cuts and ground beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (specifically fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables); macadamia nuts; pecans; ginseng and peanuts. Foods that fall under the rule must be labeled at retail, and for fish and shellfish, that means form of production – wild or farm raised. This does not include foods that are included as an ingredient. Processed foods that have undergone a chemical change such as cooking, curing or smoking are also excluded, and food service establishments such as restaurants, cafeterias, bars, lunchrooms do not have to comply.

The law provides for penalties of up to $1,000 per violation, and USDA plans to make funding available to accelerate and expand training of state cooperator employees, initiate development of an automated review tracking system, conduct a retailer survey, conduct audits of the retail supply chain and continue conducting education and outreach activities.

Some supporters of the regulation have criticized the new law as not doing enough to distinguish U.S. products from their competitors. The rule announced today allows U.S. meat produced in a domestic facility that also is processing imported animals to carry a multi-country designation. Some have pushed for a U.S.-only label to spur consumer purchases.

From a consumer perspective, SupermarketGuru conducted a poll back in 2005 to investigate how important COOL was to shoppers. An overwhelming, 93 percent of respondents said it should be labeled. And, as these respondents believe it is their “right” to have this information - 58 percent - said that they would not expect to pay more if products are labeled by country of origin, and that the cost of such labeling should be absorbed by manufacturers and retailers.

Copies of the final rule and additional information are on display on line at http://www.ams.usda.gov/COOL.