U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici today joined in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take the necessary steps to ensure American consumers know where their food comes from.
After years of delay, mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) of fresh meat and produce will go into effect on September 30, 2008.
USDA has developed rules and regulations that implement COOL. Bingaman and Domenici said that while this program is long overdue there are improvements that need to be made to those rules to ensure the program operates as Congress intended.
In a letter to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer, the two New Mexico Senators joined colleagues in outlining several areas of concern that should be addressed before the program goes into effect Tuesday.
As the rule stands now, meat from animals that are born, raised and slaughtered in the United States may be labeled as meat from animals from multiple countries. The letter calls for meat from animals that are born, raised and slaughtered in United States to be labeled as such.
"The purpose of COOL is to clearly identify the origin of meat products, providing consumers the most precise information available. This interim final rule, if left without clarification and proper guidance of the issue, has the real possibility of undermining the program. Consumers and producers are expecting to see exclusively U.S. origin producer labeled as such," the letter states.
Additionally, products that are fried, broiled, gilled, boiled, steamed, baked, roasted, cured, smoked or restructured currently are exempt from labeling. For example a jar of raw peanuts would be labeled, while a jar of roasted peanuts would not. Additionally, a frozen vegetable, such as peas or carrots, must be labeled, but mixed frozen vegetables, peas and carrots, would be classified as processed foods and would therefore be exempt. The letter is asking USDA to develop a system that will allow these types of products to be labeled under COOL regulations.
The letter also suggests that USDA reconsider addressing the labeling of ground meat and the labeling of covered commodities of U.S. origin that are further processed or handled in a foreign country.
"Producers and consumers have waited long enough and deserve a common sense rule that accomplishes the goal of letting them know where their food products come from. Forty-eight other industrialized nations have an origin labeling program for one or more commodities, and farmers, ranchers and consumers across the United States support country of origin labeling," the letter states.