Sen. Harkin Calls on Bush Administration To Revamp COOL Plan

US - Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has called on the Bush administration to reconsider COOL plans he claims would place an unnecessary burden on U.S. agriculture producers, reports Bureau of National Affairs (BNA).
calendar icon 6 May 2003
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Sen. Tom Harkin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that regulations now being developed by the U.S. Agriculture Department will be "unnecessarily complicated and burdensome"--establishing a "painstaking and impractical" recordkeeping system that is not warranted by law or common sense.

"A workable and feasible system is achievable and critical to the success of this program," he said. "There is developing an appearance [that] ... USDA does not have an interest in creating a workable program."

Harkin said in a May 1 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman that there has been an "uproar" from nearly every sector of the U.S. agriculture industry over the plan.

Last month, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) asked Congress to reopen legislation enacted last year--the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002--that requires USDA to put in place mandatory country-of-origin labeling regulations by Sept. 30, 2004, saying that the program will cost agriculture producers up to $2 billion a year.

According to BNA, a spokeswoman for the House Agriculture Committee said that a hearing on the issue would be scheduled for some time after Memorial Day.

Also last month, the Grocery Manufacturers of America said in comments filed with the Agriculture Department that the country-of-origin labeling program potentially could force U.S. food manufacturers to source their produce or ingredients overseas.

U.S. farm groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union have supported the plan--initially opposed by the Bush administration--on the grounds that it would distinguish American-made agricultural products from their foreign competitors, providing U.S. producers with a marketing edge.

Harkin, however, said in his letter to Veneman May 1 that Congress never envisioned that USDA would "distort" the program by requiring, for example, third-party verification of country-of-origin certification.

"I am perplexed why USDA continues down this ill-conceived path when more straightforward means to implement the program exist," Harkin said. "What is most disturbing is that the department thus far has refused to consider seriously other more workable approaches, such as producer self-certification and relying up the existing country of origin information for covered commodities already required by customs upon entry into the U.S."

Source: National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) - 6th May 2003

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