April 30, 2007


Tainted feed flap draws calls for country-of-origin labelling in US



US congressional support for requiring country-of-origin labels (COOL) on supermarket meat products has been present for years, and some have said the latest problems with contaminated feeds being given to pets and pigs gives the issue new urgency.


Congress approved a meat origin labelling law when it passed the 2002 farm bill, but legislative manoeuvring by some lawmakers has stymied implementation.


Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., told Dow Jones Newswires Friday (Apr 27) he believes the shift to Democratic control in Congress is exactly what origin-label supporters need to finally implement the law. He said the mixing of imported Chinese pet food supplements into domestic product is comparable to how many human food manufacturers operate.


US consumers are generally comfortable with domestic food production operations, but are in the dark on foreign systems, he said.


"Consumers want to know where their food comes," said Pomeroy, a member of the House Agriculture Committee. "We know where our T-shirts are made--but we don't know where our T-bones come from."


House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said recently that he is dedicated to getting mandatory country-of-origin labelling implemented. He said work is already under way to make that happen, but predicted it might not be done until next year.


Contaminated imports that may have entered the human food supply via hogs fed Chinese pet food supplement containing the toxic chemical melamine is a good example of why people need to know where the food products they're buying come from, National Farmers Union (NFU) President Tom Buis told Dow Jones Newswires.


COOL should have been implemented Sep 30 of 2004 as directed in the 2002 Farm Bill, but the big packers have used their clout to throw up enough roadblocks to delay it, said Coy Knobel, aide to Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo., in an e-mailed answer to questions. Sen. Enzi has been a big proponent of mandatory COOL.


Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn, said the pet food recall highlights weak links in the US food safety system, including the amount of food the US imports and FDA's poor inspection record.


Right now implementation is set to go in effect next year, but Sen. Enzi cosponsored and introduced a bill (Section 404) with Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., and others in January to move that date up to Sep 30 of this year.


Knobel said ranchers in Wyoming want COOL, and it's good to give consumers more information and choices.


But not everyone agrees.


David Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), said COOL does not allow trace back of a food product. It simply tells where a food item came from.


"We're talking about wheat gluten and rice gluten, not hogs, anyway," Warner said. "COOL would have done no good in this situation."


Instead, the NPPC's members have approved a policy of supporting a mandatory nationwide animal identification programme, Warner said. But since the system currently is a voluntary programme, the NPPC is encouraging its members to register their premises.


Joe Schuele, director of trade media for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said NCBA members support the notion that all products offered in supermarkets and restaurants should be safe. Anything else should not be sold--labelled or unlabelled.


NCBA policy supports a voluntary approach to COOL, Schuele said, so any programme has a market value and not a mandatory cost.