The current BSE crisis in the US has touched numerous industries and ignited countless issues. One of these topics that the crisis has brought back to life has been the simmering feud over country-of-origin labelling of beef and other foods.
Lawmakers in 2001 ordered such labelling to begin this October. But a proposed provision in the pending Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) bill, inserted at the urging of meatpackers, pork producers and grocery chains, would delay the labelling for two years.
Many groups, such as the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), claim that the proposed regulations would be burdensome and would not ensure a safer food supply.
"While NPPC continues to oppose mandatory country-of-origin labelling, the two-year time out period should give all parties ample time to create a voluntary, market-driven framework," said president Jon Caspers. "We must now work to resolve the many problems with mandatory country-of-origin labelling - its failure to raise hog prices long-term; exemptions for chicken and turkey products; a reduction in record US pork exports and less than 50 per cent of pork products would be covered by country-of-origin labelling."
But the landscape has changed since the single case of BSE was recorded on a farm in Washington state. Some consumer and industry groups are now pressing for the labelling law to begin on schedule. US ranchers claim that domestic and foreign consumers want beef from cattle that are born, raised and slaughtered in the United States, where food-safety standards are considered high.
The Washington Post quotes Senator Byron Dorgan as saying that the issue of mad cow disease has shined a spotlight on this issue. Dorgan, who is the chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and a strong advocate of country-of-origin labeling said: "It provides some real propellant as a major consumer issue that it did not have before."
But many livestock groups remain divided over the issue. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association , for example, is another group that supports the two-year delay. Many within the meat industry remain concerned about labelling requirements for hamburger, which often mixes meat from animals from several countries.
The issue of country-of-origin labelling has been bubbling away for decades. For more than 70 years, goods imported into the United States have been required to be labelled with the product's country of origin so that the ultimate consumer will know where it was produced. But certain products were exempted from the original labelling law.