COOL Moratorium Passes Senate, Industry Promises Voluntary Program

by 5m Editor
28 January 2004, at 12:00am

US - Opponents of mandatory country-of-origin labeling breathed a sigh of relief last week as the Senate finally approved an omnibus appropriations bill containing a two-year COOL moratorium, reported Food Chemical News.

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"Cooler heads prevailed," was the quip of choice among victorious trade associations.

A cloture vote Thursday to end debate succeeded by a 61-32 margin, one vote more than the 60 votes necessary. The omnibus bill itself was then approved by a 65-28 vote and sent to President Bush for his expected signature.

An initial attempt to end debate on Tuesday failed when Senate Democrats succeeded in defeating a cloture motion by a 12-vote margin.

Shortly after passage of the omnibus bill, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) promised to introduce a bill this week to repeal the moratorium. Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) said he is helping Daschle draft the bipartisan legislation.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who earlier succeeded in exempting wild-caught salmon and other seafood from the moratorium, indicated he would take up the COOL issue in the first fiscal 2005 spending bill to be considered.

However, even if the Senate votes to repeal the moratorium, the House is unlikely to go along. House Republicans engineered a one-year moratorium on meat-related COOL last summer, and they strongly support the two-year delay.

The Bush administration also backs the moratorium. In a Jan. 20 letter to Enzi, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman declared, "We do believe it would be wise to provide Congress with additional time to address the impacts of these [COOL] requirements. Therefore, we do support the provision in the omnibus appropriations bill."

Meanwhile, trade associations that opposed mandatory COOL said they would now proceed with plans to draft a voluntary program.

"While this is certainly a day of celebration, it is also a day of commitment for our industry to develop a more cost-effective and efficient system to provide county-of-origin information to consumers," said Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, in a statement. "We're going to work with partners throughout the produce supply chain and fellow food industry sectors to make sure consumers have access to information about the country of origin of produce in a more effective and efficient way than this law."

"Clearly, cool heads and logic prevailed in the Senate today and important funding for safety and health programs can now go forward," said the National Pork Producers Council. "The two-year delay…will give the U.S. pork industry and other food industry groups time to now develop a workable, affordable voluntary program which will benefit both producers and consumers."

"We are proud of our U.S. beef products, and of course support a program to inform consumers about what's ours," said the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "But this is not the time or place to force additional mandatory burdens on us."

Source: National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) - 27th January 2004

5m Editor