September 10, 2003
The Honorable Ann Veneman
Secretary of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Veneman:
I write in response to a report released today by the General Accounting Office (GAO) with respect to Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat. The report calls into question the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) cost estimate, which has been used as justification to delay the implementation of this critical program.
The USDA has claimed that implementation of COOL will cost $1.9 billion. The GAO, however, found that the "USDA used assumptions that are questionable and not well supported in developing its $1.9 billion estimate." In addition, the GAO report also found that:
The USDA made an arbitrary assumption that about 90 percent of farmers, ranchers, and fishermen would be subject to recordkeeping;
The USDA could provide no documentation to support its estimates for the number of hours needed to develop and maintain a recordkeeping system; and
The USDA's assumption of an hourly rate of $50 for processors to carry out recordkeeping tasks was more than double the hourly rates it used in recent estimates for other programs.
These findings from the GAO raise serious questions about the USDA's ability to provide the public with accurate and impartial information about the costs and benefits associated with COOL. As Secretary of Agriculture, I want to know how you plan to address these findings. Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response.
John F. Kerry