Then National Farmers Union today submitted positive comments to the USDA on proposed changes to the Country of Origin Labeling rule or “COOL.”
COOL mandates that certain foods must be labeled at the retailer with their country of origin. Originally passed as part of the 2007 Farm Bill, COOL was initiated by rule in 2009. Canada and Mexico successfully attacked the first version of COOL as promoting unfair trade practices before the World Trade Organization. The Obama Administration chose to deal with the ruling by not totally abandoning COOL, but by rewriting the rule.
Fighting against COOL are agribusiness giants like Tyson Foods and Cargill who routinely mix animals or animal products from other countries into products such as ground beef. Proponents of the rule argue that U.S. consumers deserve to know where their food is coming from and that U.S. raised and processed food will benefit from consumer awareness.
“Farmers, ranchers, and livestock producers take pride in making high quality products available to consumers, who can then make an educated purchasing decision at the grocery store,” said NFU President Roger Johnson in the comments. “Consumers continue to demand more information about their food. This is why it is critical that strong regulatory changes to the COOL regulation be made to promote U.S. products to our nation’s consumers.”
NFU supports the proposed rule’s requirement that each specific production step be labeled with the country in which it takes place. This will provide more information than the current method of labeling multiple countries of origin without specifying which step occurs in which country. NFU also supports the elimination of comingling allowances for muscle cuts, which will reduce confusion for consumers.
“More specific and accurate labels, together with tightening up current comingling requirements will directly respond to the problem the WTO found with the current COOL rules,” said Johnson.
The comments suggested additional ways to strengthen COOL rules. By broadening the definition of “processing” and “processed foods,” COOL standards could be applied to more products, and more regulatory adjustments could be made to encourage a standard method of COOL for food service establishments.
“NFU is very pleased by this proposed rule, as it will ensure that COOL can continue to be an important policy for all American farmers, ranchers and consumers,” said Johnson. “We appreciate the work of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in identifying a means of not only fulfilling the obligations set forth by the WTO but also strengthening the information available to consumers through COOL.”
NFU encourages farmers, ranchers, and consumers to comment on the proposed rule by visiting www.regulations.gov and searching for “Country-of-Origin Labeling. Individuals can also support the rule by signing our petition at http://bit.ly/14gAMPa. The comment period closes on April 11.