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Country of Origin Labeling Act (of interest to OG & Community Gardens because we can't grow everything)

  • Subject: [cg] Country of Origin Labeling Act (of interest to OG & Community Gardens because we can't grow everything)
  • From: "a.h.steely" gfcp@mindspring.com
  • Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2003 08:41:42 -0500

Country of Origin Labeling Act Unraveled
The Sierra Times
Published 02. 11. 03 at 16:46 Sierra Time

Billings, MT-According to the Country of Origin Labeling Act (COOL Act)
passed by Congress and signed into law by the President on May 13, 2002, the
Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the United States Department of
Agriculture is required to implement country of origin labeling in two
distinct steps.

First, the Act required AMS to issue guidelines for the voluntary
implementation of COOL no later than September 30, 2002. Second, the Act
requires AMS to promulgate regulations for the implementation of mandatory
COOL no later than September 30, 2004.

On October 11, 2002, AMS issued guidelines for the voluntary implementation
of COOL and provided the public with a 6-month period to submit comments
regarding the "utility of these guidelines." Thus, the only applicable rules
for implementing COOL are the voluntary guidelines, and comments on these
guidelines are not due until April 9, 2003.

Meanwhile, on November 21, 2003, AMS surprised the entire industry by
announcing the cost of voluntary COOL would be $2 billion. R-CALF United
Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) and several other organizations filed a
request for all the documents AMS used in support of its estimate. The
documents revealed that AMS consulted with only three industry trade
associations in generating its estimate. The three trade associations are:
National Meat Association (NMA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), and
the National Food Processors Association (NFPA). The NPPC was a prominent
opponent during Congressional consideration of COOL. The NMA and the NFPA
are members of the Food Industry Trade Coalition (FITC) and cosigners on a
March 5, 2002, letter to Congress which stated, "The Food Industry Trade
Coalition (FITC) urges you to oppose mandatory country of origin labeling
language in the final version of the Farm Bill." R-CALF USA COOL Committee
Chair Danni Beer said, "As a producer organization, we are concerned that
AMS would consult only with the most prominent opponents of COOL when
attempting to arrive at a legitimate cost estimate."

The AMS wrote in the October 11, 2002, Federal Register that the regulations
for mandatory COOL will also be developed through a rulemaking process and
AMS will again allow an opportunity for public comments. However, the
rulemaking process for mandatory COOL has not yet begun, and AMS has not yet
asked for public comments.

During the current voluntary stage of COOL, no one is obligated to label
products. However, if retailers choose to label, the AMS has established
guidelines that must be followed in order to use the USA label. According to
Beer, the problem with the voluntary guidelines is that AMS has no authority
to enforce the provisions of guidelines and the packers and retailers are
given discretion on how to verify claims of origin. "This is precisely why
we support only mandatory labeling. We need an enforceable, federal law that
establishes reasonable conditions that packers and retailers must accept as
proof of origin. Producers should not be subject to arbitrary conditions the
packing industry is trying to impose in an attempt to kill COOL," Beer said.
Beer referenced letters circulated by Swift & Company which is arbitrarily
requiring a "USDA certified third-party" verifier, and a letter by IBP that
suggests domestic meat may not be able to be sold in retail food chains.
"These letters are designed for the sole purpose of weakening producer
support for COOL," said Beer.

Beer suggested producers should ignore the scare tactics of the meatpackers
and retailers during this voluntary phase and they should, instead, begin
focusing on what kinds of rules are needed for mandatory COOL. "R-CALF USA
is committed to making mandatory COOL work and we will continue offering AMS
cost-effective standards for verifying origin," she said.

Beer said producers should call AMS Administrator A.J. Yates at 202-720-5115
 and AMS Associate Deputy William Sessions at 202-720-5705 to register their
concerns regarding how the COOL implementation process is being handled for
U.S. cattle producers. Beer also stated that R-CALF USA further urges those
cattle organizations which supported voluntary COOL to step to the plate to
help their members address the many false rumors that are circulating during
this voluntary phase of COOL.

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