New legislation to tighten the 'origin of labelling' for food products in the US continues to incite reactions with a coalition of consumer and agricultural organisations this week claiming that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) must redraft the guidelines.
The Americans for Country of Origin Labeling (ACOL) alliance maintains that the agency's guidelines go beyond statutory authority to implement mandatory labelling, granted by Congress in the 2002 farm bill, and fail to consider existing industry practices. As a result, says ACOL, USDA's price tag of nearly $2 billion for labelling implementation is grossly inflated.
"USDA issued guidelines and cost estimates based on a worst-case scenario and without taking into account the many industry practices that already facilitate labelling," said Dave Frederickson, president of the National Farmers Union, an ACOL member. "As a result, farm producers, retailers and others in the marketing chain have been misled about the true impact of mandatory labelling."
As from September 2004, the labelling provisions passed by Congress in the 2002 farm bill would require produce, peanuts, meat and fish to be labelled in stores indicating the country of origin.
The alliance reports that after requesting clarification from the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) with regards to the cost estimates for labelling implementation, AMS reported that it consulted with only three meat industry groups (no produce industry organisations), and, according to the group, it failed to provide substantive information regarding the methodology for its cost estimates.
The ACOL asserts that the USDA assumed that all two million US producers would be affected by the labelling guidelines, yet the law applies only to those who directly supply covered commodities to retailers. The actual number of suppliers to retailers is only a fraction of USDA's estimate. In addition, in the case of meat, the law does not allow the USDA to regulate producers of animals (cattle, hogs or sheep), only those providing meat products (beef, pork or lamb).
"Consumers deserve to know where their foods are produced, and it is regrettable that USDA's first actions on this important law have been so distorted and damaging to the process," said Mike Dolan of Public Citizen and a member of ACOL. "The agency should act quickly to implement the law the way Congress intended and ensure that US consumers get the information they want about their food supply."