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American Shipper

House committee repeals mandatory origin labeling for fresh foods

House committee repeals mandatory origin labeling for fresh foods

   The U.S. House Agriculture Committee passed legislation to repeal a mandatory origin labeling rule for fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood.

   The 2004 Food Promotion Act (H.R. 4576) directs the U.S. agriculture secretary to establish a voluntary labeling program for produce and meats with country-of-origin information. The bill is supposed to allow producers to work with food processors and retailers to provide labeling information on a voluntary basis.

   “The stated intent of those who advocate a mandatory country-of-origin scheme has been to benefit producers, which is a worthy goal,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, in a July 22 statement. “Unfortunately, no one has made a clear case to me that mandatory COOL (country-of-origin labeling) does anything to help producers.”

   Goodlatte said the new legislation is “preferable to a mandatory program which is more likely to hurt the folks it was intended to help.”

   According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s economic analysis, first year implementation costs for the mandatory country-of-origin labeling were estimated in the range of $582 million to $3.9 billion. Record keeping costs will continue at $458 million each year afterwards and annual costs to the U.S. economy after a 10-year period are estimated at $138 to $596 million. This same analysis estimated costs at $10 per cow and $1.50 per hog. The current legislation mandated country of origin labeling, starting September 2006.

   As many as 350 agricultural groups supported the voluntary labeling legislation. “This vote by the Agriculture Committee is an important step toward creating a positive, market-based solution to implement country-of-origin labeling for the vast majority of fresh produce sold in the United States without the added costs and burdens associated with the current law,” said Robert Guenther, vice president of the Washington-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association.

   However, the House amendment adds a mandatory compliance step in which USDA must measure the amount of all produce — domestic or imported — labeled with the country of origin to ensure the industry is meeting its promise to deliver label information to consumers. If the USDA finds the industry has not achieved a substantial majority of all produce being labeled, it is to report back to Congress with policy recommendations on ways to increase the use of country-of-origin labeling.

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