News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary by Larry Gabriel Where is this steak from?

According to law enacted as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, you should know the answer to that question.�

Country of Origin Labeling or "COOL" is law, but has not been implemented.�Rules for its implementation are proposed and available for public comment for 60 days.

When the House passed the 2004 agriculture appropriations bill it de-funded implementation of COOL as it applied to meat, but funded it for peanuts, fruit and some other foods.

Last week, the Senate passed its version of the 2004 agriculture appropriations bill to the tune of $79 billion and included funding for COOL on a voice vote.

During Senate debate nearly everyone agreed that consumers have the right to know where their food comes from.� But there is no agreement on whether the COOL provisions are workable or worth the price.

Supporters of COOL raised some worthy points: consumers have a right to know; thousands of other imports are labeled; other countries do it; 135 organizations support it; some studies indicate that a one to five percent gain in domestic meat market share is possible; COOL is already law passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the President and the same old minority opposition is still trying to change that.

Opponents countered that COOL has too many problems including: a potential $10,000 fine on a producer who does not keep adequate records; half of the meat consumed in the United States would be exempt when sold through retail food businesses such as restaurants; the costs of implementation will run about $10 per head and producers will have no way of passing on that cost; millions of head of livestock are already out there with no paper trail to their origin and the law ignores that problem; the law is poorly written and does not clearly define what the label should be on an animal raised in Canada, fed in the United States and processed in Mexico.

The bottom line is that supporters hope your public input into the rule making process will fix the implementation problems, while opponents say it can't be done.�

At least one Senator, who previously supported COOL, said he will vote against it because he will not subject his producers to the threat of a $10,000 fine no matter how workable the other provisions may become.

We only have 60 days from Oct. 30 to send in comments on how to fix a problem that Congress has been debating for years. Obviously Congress feels you are a lot smarter than they are, so I encourage you to help them out.

Send written comments to: Country of Origin Labeling Program, Room 2092-S; Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), USDA; STOP 0249; 1400 Independence Avenue, SW.; Washington, DC 20250-0249, or by facsimile to 202/720-3499, or by e-mail to cool@usda.gov.

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