Posted on 22 January 2009.
Imported product quality, and the rules determining where a product comes from for trade agreement purposes are major issues. Substandard food and pet food especially catch the public’s attention. If you ingest something, you want it to be safe.
Country of origin labeling for meat, fruits, vegetables and seafood has been a contentious issue. The multinational food processors want to procure "anywhere meat" and confuse people into believing it is USA-raised because a USDA seal of approval is affixed. But that seal of approval is applied to meat from anywhere.
The 2002 Farm Bill mandated labeling as to country of origin, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture fought it, never implementing it. The 2008 Farm Bill beat back the USDA objections, but the USDA bowed to industry anyway.
Can you believe this? The final COOL rule allows meatpackers to use the mixed-origin label ("product of the U.S., Canada and Mexico") on all meat products produced during each production day, provided only that the meatpacker commingles any amount of foreign meat product during that day’s production.
Obama has put a hold on all pending regulations, including USDA’s final COOL rule. Perhaps that will provide a chance to straighten it out.
A summary of the issue from R-CALF USA is below the fold. An article on the current status is here.
Country of Origin Labeling
January 20, 2009
Congress passed in 2002, and subsequently amended in 2008, the mandatory country-of-labeling law (COOL). COOL requires retailers to label beef, pork, lamb, chicken, goat meat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, perishable agricultural commodities (fruits and vegetables), peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts with country-of-origin information when sold at retail food establishments (i.e., grocery stores), but not when sold at food service establishments (i.e., restaurants).
COOL went into effect for wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish in 2005, but continued political pressure, particularly from the meatpacking industry, caused an extended implementation delay for all other commodities. Pursuant to a U.S. Department of Agriculture interim final rule, COOL went into effect for the remaining commodities on Sept. 30, 2008. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a final rule for COOL on Jan. 15, 2009, with an effective date of March 16, 2009.
Under COOL, Congress reserved the USA label only for non-meat products that were exclusively produced in the United States. For meat products, Congress reserved the USA label only for meat from animals exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States. Congress established a mixed-origin label for meat from animals that were born or raised in a foreign country and then slaughtered in the United States, e.g., “Product of Canada and the U.S.”
Since the initial September 2008 implementation of COOL for the remaining commodities, major U.S. meatpackers defied Congress’ intent to reserve the USA label for meat exclusively from U.S. animals by applying only a mixed-origin label (e.g., “Product of the United States, Canada, and Mexico”) on virtually all meat products, even meat products from animals exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States.
The final COOL rule contains language that authorizes meatpackers to continue their practice of mislabeling USA meat products with a mixed-origin label, thus subverting Congress’ intent to inform consumers of the true origins of the meat they purchase for their families. The final COOL rule allows meatpackers to use the mixed-origin label on all meat products produced during each production day, provided only that the meatpacker commingles any amount of foreign meat product during that day’s production.
For non-meat products, the final COOL rule severely limits the volume of products subject to the COOL law by exempting otherwise covered commodities if they undergo even minor processing such as cooking, curing, smoking, breading or adding tomato sauce. As a result, consumers will remain uninformed as to the country-of-origin of many products that Congress intended to be included under COOL.
The following revisions are needed to the final COOL rule to ensure that consumers are provided accurate and informative information as to the origins of their food:
• Meat packers must be prohibited from labeling meat derived from animals exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. with a mixed-origin label.
• Meat packers must be authorized to visually inspect each animal that is being slaughtered for the presence or absence of foreign import markings, and declare animals lacking any foreign import marking as exclusively originating in the United States.
• Meat from animals imported for immediate slaughter must be labeled with the name of the foreign country appearing first on the label followed by the name of the United States, e.g., “Product of Canada and the U.S.”
• Commodities with different origins sold in bulk containers, such as a full-service meat counter, must be segregated or individually labeled as to their respective country-of-origin so consumers can choose to purchase commodities from the country of their choice.
• Commodities covered by COOL must be subject to labeling requirements even if they undergo minor processing such as cooking, smoking, curing, breading or adding tomato sauce.
• Meat processors must be prohibited from including the name of a country on a ground meat label if the processor discontinued sourcing that product from the foreign country for more than one week.