CU comments on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)

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Consumers Union’s Comments on
US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
Interim Final Rule on Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Perishable
Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng, and Macadamia Nuts
AMS-LS-07-0081
September 30, 2008
Submitted by
Michael Hansen, PhD
Senior Scientist

Summary
Consumers Union (CU) welcomes the opportunity to comment on USDA’s Interim Final rule for mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef, pork, lamb, chicken, goat meat, perishable agricultural commodities, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts. We continue to believe that this COOL should cover as many items as possible as it is clear that consumers desire to know where there food is coming from. Indeed, when Congress passed the 2002 Farm Bill, it was clear that COOL was meant to be for consumer information purposes. Consequently, we think that COOL labeling should be as expansive as possible. While we applaud the USDA for finally implementing COOL and for adding chicken, goat meat, pecans, ginseng and macadamia nuts, we are concerned that USDA has listened more to the retail food industry, which does not want COOL, than to consumers and has come up with an interim final rule that appears to minimize the number of items covered under mandatory COOL. In particular, we believe that USDA’s overly expansive definition of “processing,” which comes from the 2004 interim final rule for fish and shellfish and which would exclude large number of items from mandatory COOL should not be used. We urge USDA/AMS to make case by case rules for what is defined as “processed” and to be conservative in terms of allowing exemptions for such items. Mixtures, such as fruit salad, should also not be exempted.
The basic problem is that the definitions of “retailer” and “processed food item” in the interim final rule are so broad as to exclude a large number of retail products from mandatory COOL. In fact, the definition of retailer excludes fish markets! AMS has no control over the definition of “retailer,” which is spelled out in the law (Public Law 107-1712). However, AMS did define “processed food item” in a way that was overly broad and lead to the exemption of many retail items from mandatory COOL.
In addition, USDA/AMS interim final rule, along with the recently revised Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), Frequently Asked Questions, COOL Implementation: Legislative History and Status of Rulemaking, dated September 26, 2008, appears to allow meat processors to label meat that is exclusively of U.S. origin with a mixed origin label e.g., “Product of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.” We feel that this proposal undermines Congress’ intent for COOL. We strongly believe that cattle that are exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the US should be labeled at “Product of US” and not allow a mixed origin label.
For the complete comments, click here (PDF format).