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Logistics, Financial Burden to Industry and Government Linger as Top Concerns Over Country of Origin Labeling Mandate

Monday, August 12, 2002
 

Washington, DC — Before the voluntary phase of the country of origin labeling law can be implemented, the scope of “covered commodities,” the nomenclature for meat from non-U.S. born livestock and other logistical and financial matters must be resolved, the American Meat Institute (AMI) said in comments filed August 9, 2002, with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

AMI filed the comments in response to AMS’ call for input on how best to structure the voluntary country of origin labeling guidelines mandated by September 30, 2002, in accordance with the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002. Mandatory guidelines are set to go into effect in 2004.

The issue of what products would be considered a “covered commodity” must be resolved, AMI said. The most logical way would be to exclude from the definition any meat products that bear an ingredient statement, AMI said in its comments. This approach is consistent with the Food Safety and Inspection Services’ policies and will eliminate arguments over the degree of processing needed to exclude an item from the “covered commodity” category, AMI said.

AMS also should recognize the “pipeline” problem and subject some products to a “grandfather clause” exempting the certain meat products from country of origin labeling due to the relevant time frames at issue. For example, dairy cows – a source of much of the nation’s ground beef supply – are often culled from their herds at between six and eight years of age and may not have adequate records when labeling becomes mandatory in 2004 to convey to packers and ultimately retailers. In particular, it would be unfair, illogical and impractical to immediately impose U.S.-birth verification requirements on animals that are the source of ground beef since a system for tracing animal origin is not in place and has not been in place.

Furthermore, Congress provided AMS with no additional funds to cover the cost of managing either the voluntary or mandatory phases of a country of origin labeling program, AMI said in the comments. Typically, expenses for voluntary phases of a program can be collected from industry. However, when the program becomes mandatory any expenses shifted to the affected industry are the equivalent of a discriminatory tax affecting the cost/price structure and relative competitiveness of that sector. AMI asked in its comments that Congress fund this mandate and resolve these discriminatory tax issues.

Finally, meat packing and processing plants may be forced to segregate animals, based on country of origin, prior to processing. Such a segregation would require a simple, meaningful label be developed for meat products that are covered commodities yet do not qualify for the “U.S.” label.

The meat industry has expressed disappointment with this mandate citing its extra financial burden for industry and additional oversight costs for USDA. The cumulative effect will be to drive value out of meat production chain, capital investment out of rural communities and some smaller operations out of business.

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Together, AMI's members produce 95 percent of the beef, pork, lamb and veal products and 70 percent of the turkey products in the U.S. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory, public relations, technical, scientific and educational services to the industry. Its affiliate, the AMI Foundation, is a separate 501(c)3 organization that conducts research, education and information projects for the industry.


For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
703-841-2400
jriley@meatinstitute.org
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs
703-841-2400
jdaoust@meatinstitute.org

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