September 30, 2008
US lawmakers ponder whether to expand country-of-origin labelling
With country-of-origin labelling rules kicking in after six years in the making, some US lawmakers say they have not gone far enough and have fallen short of lawmakers' aims.
The COOL laws, which was hastened by concerns over unsafe imports from China and Canada requires meat from countries such as Canada to be labelled which exempting certain other foods.
One food group that is the bone of contention is processed foods such as Spam, the luncheon meat from Hormel foods. Hormel declined to comment on how it may label Spam.
Such foods are not required to have country-of-origin labelling. Others in the food group are mixed vegetables and processed foods like peanuts.
Lawmakers and consumer advocates say loopholes will let meatpackers blur the distinction between foreign and domestic meat and more regulations may be needed.
Representative Rosa Delauro of Connecticut, the Democrat who heads the House subcommittee that overseas the department's funding, said USDA may be trying to dodge congressional intent. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer wrote, last week, 31 senators, including Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, called for more restrictive meat-labeling rules.
Mark Dopp, a lobbyist for the American Meat Institute, whose members include Tyson Foods Inc and Kraft Foods Inc said it's too early to consider changes to the new rules. Furthermore, labelling would incur huge costs for processors.
Country-of-origin labeling, or COOL, is a longtime goal of US farmers and ranchers convinced that identifying imported food may encourage manufacturers to use more US product. Last week, Smithfield Foods Inc. said it will slaughter only domestic pigs at its US plants, partly because of the new programme.
Consumer surveys also indicate the public the changes were well-received, according to Zogby International.
Ninety percent said they think the labels will help them make safer food choices. Only 5 percent opposed the new rules.
The 2008 farm bill passed in June revived COOL, adding chicken, ginseng and more nuts to covered products including red meat and fresh produce.
Lloyd Day, who heads the USDA agency that made the rule, said USDA guidelines exempting mixtures and processed foods are based on past legislation and the fish and shellfish label requirements.
The USDA is giving retailers and manufacturers six months before enforcing the rules, allowing them time to sell old inventory and adjust their systems. After that, businesses may be fined $1,000 per violation.