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Voluntary COOL Program to Replace One Mandated by Law, Covering Meat, Seafood, Produce

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

US - Associations for the nation’s leading produce, beef, pork and seafood producers, along with food retailers and wholesalers, have agreed to craft a program to provide consumers country of origin information about these products, according to an announcement today by the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association (UFFVA), National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), National Fisheries Institute (NFI), Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and National Grocers Association (N.G.A.).

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Produce, Beef, Pork, Seafood Producers, Food Retailers and Wholesalers to Create Program to Inform Consumers About Products’ Country of Origin

The group announced plans to hold a summit in the very near future with other concerned segments of the food industry to develop a consensus voluntary labeling program. Producers and retailers are committed to developing a cost-effective replacement to the program mandated in the 2002 farm bill.

The associations aim to finalize a labeling program by this spring, involving as many segments of the food industry as possible. They will then work with Congress to codify the program into legislation that replaces the mandatory labeling law.

“There is widespread agreement that the mandatory program is too costly and unworkable in the real world,“ said UFFVA President Tom Stenzel. “We all agree that the goal is to give consumers useful information about where their food comes from. What is needed is an industry-driven framework for providing country of origin information that is market-driven and does not increase the cost of food by imposing needless bureaucratic requirements. A solution must be reached now before it adds further costs to produce grower-shippers and harms consumers through disrupting the distribution and marketing of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables,“ Stenzel commented.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that in the first year alone the mandatory law will cost up to $3.9 billion — costs that will be passed along to consumers or absorbed by producers and retailers in the low-profit food business, according to the industry groups.

“We do not need to create a bureaucratic nightmare that will drive small retailers and producers out of business,“ said FMI President and CEO Tim Hammonds. “Food retailers have long promoted U.S. brands and their region, state or farm of origin. This initiative can build on these efforts and accomplish the same goal as the mandatory labeling law without the baggage of excessive compliance costs.“ NGA President and CEO Tom Zaucha said his membership agrees with this approach.

NCBA President and Idaho Cattle Producer Eric Davis echoed these beliefs, emphasizing that, “We need a program 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.

“The mandatory labeling law was never designed to promote food safety. We have other laws for that purpose, and we are now working with the government to strengthen those measures and make sure that the American consumer can continue to buy the safest beef in the world.“

NPPC President Jon Caspers, a pork producer from Swaledale, IA, says pork producers support a workable, voluntary country of origin labeling program that would include a national animal identification system. “This would protect the health of the U.S. livestock herd and ensure greater confidence in our food supply,“ Caspers said. “Due to current low hog prices, it’s critical to increase the demand for pork. A voluntary program will be available to all segments, including restaurants and food service, and will reward those who choose to participate.“

Source: National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) - 16th January 2004

5m Editor