NFPA Calls USDA's COOL Requirements “Operationally Impractical“ for Food Processors and Retailers

US - In testimony delivered to a U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee hearing today, the National Food Processors Association urged that substantial changes be made to new country of origin labeling requirements by the USDA.
calendar icon 3 October 2003
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“The approach that USDA has taken to country of origin labeling would be unnecessarily burdensome and operationally impractical for both food processors and retailers,“ said Kurt Buckman, Director of Quality Systems Management for Birds Eye Foods, who testified on behalf of NFPA. “USDA's guidelines would ‘over regulate' by prescribing country of origin labeling for products already required to display such labeling, creating the prospect of duplicative, confusing and even conflicting requirements.“

NFPA was invited to testify at a hearing held by the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Livestock and Horticulture on Country of Origin Labeling Requirements under the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (commonly referred to as the “Farm Bill“).

Among the specific concerns NFPA highlighted were:

  • The food industry has an ongoing requirement for country of origin labeling that predates the Farm Bill. “Products of ‘foreign origin,' as determined under U.S. tariff laws, already are subject to country of origin labeling under a comprehensive set of regulations administered by the Customs Bureau,“ Buckman noted.

  • The U.S. voluntary program covers food categories that are clearly processed foods. In his testimony, Buckman pointed out that “USDA's guidance, given the statutory definitions used to identify covered commodities, conflicts with the explicit exclusion for processed food ingredients in the Farm Bill.“

  • The Customs Bureau “has jurisdiction over the country of origin marking requirements for imported products at port of entry as well as the labeling of packaged products offered for sale in the United States and containing imported ingredients, including those repackaged in the United States,“ Buckman testified. “The requirements established by the Farm Bill raise problems for food processors in determining what labeling requirements apply to specific products.“

  • “The labeling requirements under the Farm Bill are extremely complicated and technologically difficult to achieve,“ Buckman stated. “Because percentages of components vary among bags, order of predominance by weight rules for country of origin marking will cause frequent and costly label changes or extraordinary spending on sophisticated marking equipment – while providing minimal benefit to consumers.“

Buckman noted that “The food industry is currently faced with complying with the Farm Bill country of origin labeling requirements on September 30, 2004. As of today, we have neither final guidance nor regulations. Covered foods offered for retail sale come September 30, 2004 will not all have been packaged under industry programs to satisfy the USDA country of origin labeling requirements.“

In conclusion, Buckman stated “The current requirements established by the Farm Bill and USDA's guidance are seriously flawed. Another look at these requirements is needed to exempt all processed foods, which already are covered by Customs Bureau regulations. USDA's voluntary country of origin program should not become mandatory without significant and substantial change.“

Source: National Food Processors Association - 3rd October 2003

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