Country of origin labeling was introduced in the United States in 2008, requiring origin labeling of meats, nuts and raw produce, but not dairy products or processed foods. Then in October last year, Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown introduced legislation in Congress to extend COOL to dairy products. The bill proposed retaining the exemption for processed foods, but if passed, it would require COOL labeling for dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and butter.
Following the recall of 170 tons of Chinese milk powder last month, tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, Gillibrand has announced her push for the legislation, and has also said she wants to overhaul the keeping of dairy product inventories, in an effort to dispel the problem of artificially depressed milk prices.
“All consumers have the right to know whether the milk, yogurt and cheese that we buy are made in Upstate New York or China,” Gillibrand said. “This legislation supports both families and farmers by requiring country of origin labeling on all dairy products. With increasing dairy imports and alarming news about tainted products overseas, country of origin labeling provides critical information to parents and all adults that will help them make smart choices for their families.”
However, Washington DC-based dairy industry representative body, the International Dairy Foods Association, has called the legislation “misguided”. It said that country of origin labeling on dairy products could drive food manufacturers away from dairy products, encouraging them to substitute vegetable-based or other protein ingredients.
The Dairy COOL Act of 2009 is still at the Committee stage of the legislative process.
Dairy imports were valued at an average of $2.7bn annually over the past five years, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
The COOL labeling for meat products has stirred up ill-feeling from the Canadian government, which says that the US legislation has damaged its export market. The World Trade Organization has been called in to settle the matter, and the panel dealing with the case is expected to issue its report in summer or early fall this year.