Due to a scheduling conflict Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called off a news conference Wednesday morning during which he was expected to announce he would ask the meat industry to voluntarily follow stricter guidelines for new package labels designed to specify a food's country of origin. At least that was what the Secretary told consumer and farm groups and meat industry leaders on Tuesday. The move came as President Barack Obama prepares to visit Canada - a longtime opponent of country of origin labels.
The stricter guidelines would be a break from rules announced by the Agriculture Department shortly before President George W. Bush left office. The original rules didn't make supporters of the labeling law happy. They say the rules allowed meat companies to be vague about where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. If the industry does not comply with the stricter guidelines, the Obama administration is expected to write new rules.
Stronger rules would mean labels that would give consumers a clearer idea about the origin of the animal or food and cover more foods. According to Jean Halloran of Consumers Union and Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch, Vilsack said many foods that are defined as processed - roasted peanuts, for example, or cured bacon - are exempt from the law, but Vilsack proposed narrowing that definition.