US implements COOL food labeling
The US has finally implemented a law that requires country-of-origin labeling on meat, fish, poultry, produce and peanuts as of September 30, 2008.
On May 13, 2002, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, more commonly known as the 2002 Farm Bill, became law. One of its many provisions requires country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef, lamb, pork, fish, perishable agricultural commodities, and peanuts. On January 27, 2004, Public Law 108-199 delayed implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until September 30, 2006. On November 10, 2005, Public Law 109-97 delayed implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until September 30, 2008. As described in the legislation, program implementation is the responsibility of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. The recently enacted Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill) expands the list of covered commodities to include chicken, goat meat, ginseng, pecans and macadamia nuts.
The law was initially passed by Congress in 2002 but buckled under extreme pressure from the meat industry and the USDA:
Many in the meat industry, these advocates say, have fought the new labeling law because they don't want consumers to know that they're buying imported hamburger and beef cuts. The USDA also stood against COOL, according to Lloyd Day, head of the agency's Agricultural Marketing Service, because of its projected impact on consumers and its estimated cost to the food industry: $2.5 billion in the first year.
There are some major loopholes in the new legislation - since the labeling codes exclude processed foods, there is a lot of grey area. Just what exactly constitutes "processed" food?
"It's considered processed if it's combined with one other ingredient," said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, a non-profit consumer rights organization. "We think they're being incredibly broad."
In this case, if a product raised outside of the US is imported and then mixed together (let's say nuts, for example), it is considered processed and not required to bear the COOL label.
Furthermore, there is a major loophole for those in the meat industry:
Meat derived from cattle imported into the U.S. for immediate slaughter can bear a label that states it's a product of its origin country and the United States, even though the animal was raised entirely outside the U.S.
Because of the numerous holes in the legislation as it now stands, there are concerns around safety and intentional mislabeling of consumer products - especially with the recent strings of food-borne illnesses, many of which have resulted in preventable deaths.