Consumer Reports Poll Underscores Value of Existing U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling Law for Imported Meat and PoultryWednesday, July 11, 2007
“A new Consumer Reports poll released today
suggesting that consumers want country of
origin labeling for food underscores the value
of the existing mandatory country of origin
labeling rules for imported meat and poultry
enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Information about these labels may be found at
Food that is manufactured in America in a facility inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a product of the United States and appropriately labeled under existing laws and regulations. Any product imported from a foreign country for direct sale to consumers and not further processed in a U.S. facility must be labeled with its country of origin. Consumers no doubt have seen labels on Danish hams that say “Product of Denmark” or New Zealand lamb that say “Product of New Zealand.”
Despite the fact that these labels have existed for years, language in the 2002 Farm Bill requires labels on meat sold at retail to declare where an animal was born, where it was raised and where it was slaughtered. This law has been called mandatory country of origin labeling or ‘COOL.’ That is a misnomer. These labels should be called KOIL for Keep Out Import Labels because that is their purpose.
Existing country of origin labels are applied in compliance with international trade rules. ‘KOIL,’ on the other hand, violates our obligations under NAFTA and WTO, as evidenced by the complaints filed last week by New Zealand, Canada and Mexico in Geneva. By creating an onerous rule that applies to meat (and not poultry) and to food sold at retail (not foodservice), the meat industry will be forced to attempt to sort livestock and raw materials in a costly and logistically complex way or face huge monetary penalties.
This will increase costs and force companies to alter livestock procurement practices to comply with a very complex and cumbersome law when consumers simply want to know where their food is produced. ‘KOIL’ only benefits protectionist livestock producers who seek to limit competition, disadvantage products from other countries, drive up livestock prices and in turn, drive up the price of meat for consumers.
Finally, in all of this, it is important to remember that labels are not food safety programs. While some consumers may place high value on the labels we apply today that state the country of origin, the labels themselves do not offer a food safety benefit.