The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) has welcomed the introduction of legislation that would establish a voluntary country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program in place of a mandated program.
The association claims that the Food Promotion Act, sponsored by Senators Rick Santorum and John Cornyn, will allow producers to work with food processors and retailers to provide country-of-origin product labeling.
This, says the GMA, will be informative and beneficial to both producers and consumers without the excessive expense associated with the mandated version.
If approved by the Senate, the bill would replace the current mandatory COOL regime for seafood, meat, fruits, vegetables and peanuts. Mandatory COOL is currently required for seafood and is scheduled to go into full effect September 30, 2006, for other covered commodities.
Many in the food industry are fiercely opposed to mandatory labeling. The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association (UFFVA), National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) are all committed to finding an effective alternative to the programme mandated in the 2002 farm bill.
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.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that mandatory COOL would cost the food industry as much as $3.9 billion to implement in the first year alone -costs that could be passed along to consumers or absorbed by producers and retailers in the low-profit food business, according to the industry groups
"The Food Promotion Act would create a workable country-of-origin labeling program, empowering farmers, ranchers, food manufacturers and retailers to promote American products without incurring the exorbitant costs associated with the current mandatory scheme," said Patrick Lehman, GMA director of federal affairs.
"We appreciate the leadership of Senators Santorum and Cornyn on this issue, and urge the Senate to give this legislation its full consideration."
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.
The debate now is over whether these products should be covered by voluntary or mandatory regulations. But it would be wrong to assume that everyone in the US food industry os opposed to mandatory labeling. In December, a coalition of 165 US food manufacturers and associations sent a letter to President Bush arguing that any delay of the mandatory country-of-origin labelling law is not supported by the overwhelming majority of US food manufacturers.
The coalition, called Americans for Country of Origin Labeling (ACOL), has urged the President to oppose Congressional efforts to delay country-of-origin labelling.