July 29, 2008


USDA to unveil meat origin label law this week


The USDA is set to unveil this week its new rule to govern how retailers should place country-of-origin labels on meat products beginning September 30.


The primary role of "interim final" rule, which the USDA is scheduled to publish this week in the US Federal Register, is to inform the industries it will affect so they can be prepared, according to a pre-publish copy of the document.


Beef, pork, chicken, lamb and goat meat products will have to be labelled when the subsequent "final" rule is implemented on September 30.


The new rule will not apply to restaurants, and an exemption for "processed" products covers a long list of items such as "meatloaf, meatballs, fabricated steak, breaded veal cutlets, corned beef, sausage, breaded chicken tenders, and teriyaki flavoured pork loin."


The rule does apply to ground beef, though, and if beef from different country origins is included in product it must all be listed on the label.


Congress first approved a law as part of the 2002 farm bill that would mandate beef, pork and lamb on grocery store shelves be labelled with the country of origin, but implementation was postponed several times.


Lawmakers rewrote the law last year to appease opponents by taking out much of the labelling expense, and added it to the 2008 farm bill.


They did this by forbidding the government from requiring any more record-keeping than meat producers, distributors and handlers already maintain through normal business practices. The new law was adopted as part of the recently enacted 2008 farm bill.


Meat producers, in order to prove the origin of product, may simply provide a sworn affidavit, the USDA said in the rule.


"USDA continues to look for ways to minimize the burden associated with this rule," it said.


Proponents of the labelling law in Congress have often equated it with improved safety, but the USDA stresses in the interim rule that it believes there is no connection.


"The intent of this law is to provide consumers with additional information on which to base their purchasing decisions," the USDA said. Country-of-origin labelling "is a retail labelling programme and as such does not provide a basis for addressing food safety."


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