Congress included mandatory country-of-origin labeling in the 2002 Farm Bill, but concerns about its implementation have prevented it from taking effect. Now, the House Agriculture Committee has approved a COOL compromise that would take effect in Sept. 30, 2008, for beef, pork and lamb.
Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and ranking member Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., explained the three new COOL label categories:
1. "Product of the U.S." label: for meat from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.;
2. "Mixed product" label: for meat from foreign born animals raised or slaughtered in the U.S. (for example, "product of Mexico and the U.S.") That category would also include a "shotgun label" for ground beef that would list countries where the beef might have originated (such as: "Product may contain beef from U.S., Australia, Canada, Brazil, etc.);
3. Label for meat born, raised, and slaughtered in countries other than the U.S. which would identify it as the product of that foreign country.
Peterson told reporters that the deal "takes out the huge penalties" in the 2002 version of COOL, streamlines paperwork, and "deals with the liability issue." Under the new agreement, producers could self-certify the origin of their animals and they would not "have to have birth certificates," Peterson says.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association reacted to the compromise with some satisfaction that the language would be improved over the previous version of COOL, but still disappointed that poultry is not included and unsupportive of the concept of, as NCBA President John Queen puts it, putting an "'eat-at-your-own-risk' label" on beef.