Country of Origin Labeling: Support New USDA Rules
CONSUMERS WANT TO KNOW WHERE THEIR FOOD COMES FROM
Until recently, the United States was one of only a few highly developed countries in the world that did not require that its consumers be informed of country-of-origin of food products available at retail grocery stores.
Congress finally corrected this oversight in a law first passed in 2002 and later amended in 2008 that requires beef, pork, lamb, chicken, goat meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables and certain nuts sold at retail grocery outlets to be clearly labeled as to their country of origin. The law is referred to as the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law.
In March 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) put regulations in place to implement the COOL law. Mexico and Canada challenged the rules, as to meat only, at the WTO. The WTO ruled that the U.S. needed to change certain aspects of the rules to provide more information to consumers and/or reduce the burden on imported product.
New USDA Rules
On March 8, 2013, the USDA announced it is proposing a new COOL rule to address the accusations leveled against it by the WTO and provide consumers with more specific information regarding the origins of muscle cuts of meat. The proposed rule would require labels for muscle cuts of meat to identify the country where each of the three production steps – birthing, raising, and slaughtering – occurred. For example, meat from an animal born in Canada and imported to the United States to be fed and later slaughtered could be labeled “Born in Canada and Raised and Slaughtered in the United States.”
Also, the proposed rule would disallow meat derived exclusively from animals exclusively born , raised, and slaughtered in the United States to be mislabeled as a product of multiple countries. Muscle cuts of meat that are exclusively of U.S. origin will bear a label stating “Born, Raised, and Slaughtered in the United States.”
The proposed COOL rule is an appropriate response to the WTO’s ruling. It effectively addresses the WTO’s accusation that imported livestock are being treated less favorably than domestic livestock without ceding U.S. sovereignty or weakening the COOL law. The proposed COOL rule will ensure that meat produced exclusively in the United States is not mislabeled as a product of mixed origin and consumers will have more specific information on which they can base their purchasing decisions.
We urge Congress to assist USDA in finalizing the proposed COOL rule as quickly as possible and without any substantive changes.