And you thought your foods were already COOL…
By Consumers Union on Thursday, October 2nd, 2008
As of September 30, food manufacturers and retailers are required to label which country your beef, lamb, pork, fish, fruits, vegetables and peanuts came from. Congress actually passed country of origin labeling (COOL) in 2002, but industry lobbied long and hard to its implementation. Since 2005, only certain fish and shellfish bore a country of origin label.
However, not all foods are covered under the newly implemented labeling law. Butcher shop meat and fish market fish, as well as “processed” foods including mixed frozen vegetables, bagged mixed salad and peanut butter, are exempt from COOL labeling requirements. Restaurants, cafeterias and lunchrooms are also exempt. Check out our guide to see what’s COOL vs. NOT COOL.
In addition, the law doesn’t apply to pet food. Sorry, Fido.
Even with its loopholes — like labeling frozen peas but not frozen peas and carrots — country of origin labeling will help us close certain gaps in our knowledge about our food and help us make choices in accordance with our own values and tolerance for risk. No one wants to spend a night hovered over the toilet bowl, or take a costly trip to the emergency room if it can be avoided.
Speaking of cost, you shouldn’t expect to see noticeable changes in retail price. There was no noticeable effect when we began to label seafood, and we expect the same here. 92% of Americans agree that imported foods should be labeled by their country of origin, according to a 2007 Consumer Reports survey.
Some foods may have labels that don’t work very well, like “Product of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.” “If meat….derived from U.S. and mixed origin animals are commingled during a production day, the resulting product may carry the mixed origin claim,” says USDA. So, the law isn’t perfect, and its implementation could be complicated. Even so, a country-of-origin label could recharge our sense of pride in our own food, and encourage us to walk a few blocks to buy local foods. Perhaps it will have the simple yet wonderful effect of allowing us to pay more attention.