U.S. specialty crop block grant protected
Newly appointed U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday that he will rescind a decision by the previous administration that would have moved $3.2 million in specialty crop block grant money to fund oversight and enforcement of the country's mandatory county of origin labeling (COOL) regulations.
The United Fresh Produce Association, based in Washington, praised Vilsack's announcement, also stating that the result of the new administration not taking this action would have been 'bad public policy all the way around.'
• Final rule on COOL
Former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer informed both House and Senate agriculture leaders in December that he was moving forward with this process despite strong objections from United Fresh and others.
On Jan. 6, the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, of which United Fresh is the secretariat, sent a letter to Schafer expressing strong opposition to the decision.
'To turn around and ask the industry to use one of its programs to fund enforcement appears to be asking them to take a disproportionate hit compared to other food sectors impacted by COOL,' the alliance said in its letter.
'If USDA believes additional funding is required for COOL enforcement, we strongly believe Congress which passed the COOL provisions should appropriate funding solely for that purpose,' the alliance added. 'To be blunt, USDA's inability to persuade the Congress which passed the mandatory COOL to appropriate money for enforcement cannot be used as an excuse for robbing specialty crop farmers of the small amount of investment guaranteed in the Farm Bill.'