Food Industry Announces Voluntary Labeling Program

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

US - As a bill delaying mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat and produce heads to the Senate floor this week, food industry groups have introduced plans to develop their own voluntary labeling system, reports Greenwire.

Need a Product or service?
Animal Health Products
Swine Breeders and Genetics
Pig, Hog Feed and Ingredients
Swine manure, waste and odor
Pig, Hog and Swine Books

The country-of-origin labeling (COOL) dispute has garnered renewed interest since last month's mad cow scare turned the nation's attention to food safety, particularly in meat. A beef cow in Yakima, Wash. -- which was eventually discovered to have originated in Canada -- tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in late December. Concern over tracking the disease has led to a push for the revival of COOL, which supporters have said would aid consumers wanting to avoid imported beef from Canada and other foreign nations.

The cattle industry has been largely splintered over the labeling issue. Some groups have called for swift implementation of COOL, arguing such information is necessary to shore up consumer loyalty to U.S. beef. Other beef producers have said labeling would usher in the downfall of U.S. beef, as ranchers and processing plants would suffer to meet compliance costs of the regulations. This latter group is largely driving efforts to create a voluntary labeling program.

The country-of-origin labeling law, passed under the 2002 farm bill, requires that all meat, seafood, vegetables and fruit bear the labels by September of this year. But a rider attached to the omnibus appropriations bill, scheduled for a Senate vote today, would delay implementation of the labeling provision for an additional two years, until September 2006.

The $820 billion appropriations measure -- which would fund U.S. EPA, and the Transportation, Agriculture and Commerce departments for the rest of the 2004 fiscal year -- is the first item of business for the Senate as it reconvenes this afternoon. The House passed the bill last month before leaving for holiday recess.

The National Cattleman's Beef Association and the National Pork Producer's Council have called for the Senate to pass the bill and delay the labeling law, which they have said would prove too expensive and cumbersome for an industry whose profit margins are already tight.

On Friday, the cattle association and pork council joined four other industry groups -- including other cattle and pork producers, seafood and vegetable producers, and food retailers and wholesalers -- in announcing they would craft a voluntary program to provide consumers with country-of-origin information.

The groups -- including the National Fisheries Institute, United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Food Marketing Institute and National Grocers Association -- said their effort would provide market-driven labeling information to meet the needs of consumers, but with lower costs and less bureaucracy than the mandatory USDA program. The groups said they would aim to finalize the program this spring and eventually work to codify it into law.

"There is widespread agreement that the mandatory program is too costly and unworkable in the real world," said Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.

The Bush administration, as well as many food processors, have supported delay of the labeling provision, saying it would burden the food industry and consumers with undue costs and regulations. USDA has estimated compliance with the law would cost the industry several billion dollars initially and roughly half a billion dollars annually thereafter.

"We need a program to that allows consumers to support American producers. At the same time, we must not confuse this promotional program with efforts to ensure that our beef supply is safe," said National Cattleman's Beef Association President Eric Davis, who raises cattle in Idaho. Davis said COOL was never intended for food safety, which other programs regulate.

Source: National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) - 22nd January 2004

5m Editor