|May 19, 2004:
A few lawmakers have devised yet another plan to kill a law
passed in 2002 that would require grocery stores to label certain
foods with their country of origin.
U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Charles Stenholm, D-Texas,
plan to offer legislation this week to repeal the mandatory
country-of-origin labeling (COOL) provision and, instead,
maintain a voluntary system. But, there are several reasons
voluntary food labeling is just not COOL.
For starters, voluntary country-of-origin labeling has been
available since 1998, yet packers, processors and retailers
have refused to participate. There is no reason to believe
companies that profit from importing less expensive and often
lower-quality food products would voluntarily label these
products because they fear consumers would prefer to buy U.S.-origin
These fears are accurate as, in a recent national survey,
85 percent of U.S. consumers said they were more inclined
to buy food produced in the United States. Unfortunately,
without mandatory labeling, consumers have no way to distinguish
U.S. quality products from the 11 percent of food products
that are imported and consumed in the U.S.
Secondly, it is not the right time to make changes in voluntary
provisions that are due to expire this fall when the mandatory
provisions have yet to be implemented. The Goodlatte-Stenholm
legislation would also reopen the farm bill, making it vulnerable
to a variety of controversial amendments.
Most importantly, it’s not wise to eliminate a law
that would help domestic producers promote the consumption
of U.S.-grown products and better compete with the tremendous
growth of imported food products. It is unfair to disallow
American producers a marketing and promotion tool like COOL,
yet continue to champion trade deals like the Australian Free
Trade Agreement that will further open our markets with little
expected return for U.S. producers. Domestic agriculture producers
need a level, competitive playing field or we will continue
the trend toward offshoring America’s agriculture production.
Instead of scrapping the beneficial mandatory COOL law, why
not take action to improve it? Any concerns surrounding mandatory
COOL can be resolved by modifying current law to ensure the
U.S. Department of Agriculture implements the program in a
producer- and retailer-friendly manner. If USDA uses common
sense in writing the implementation rules, COOL could be up
and running by the original September 2004 deadline.
Viable legislation has been introduced to improve upon the
mandatory COOL law. If passed, the Country-of-Origin Labeling
Amendment Act of 2003 (H.R. 3083), sponsored by Reps. Collin
Peterson, D-Minn., and Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., and the Country-of-Origin
Labeling Enhancement Act of 2004 (H.R. 3993), sponsored by
Reps. Mary Bono, R-Calif., and Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., would
ensure the mandatory COOL law is enacted in an efficient and
cost-effective manner. These are constructive solutions to
address the concerns surrounding COOL, quite a contrast to
the negative approach of killing the law before it is properly
National Farmers Union (www.nfu.org)
works to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality
of life for rural citizens through legislative representation,
educational opportunities and support for farmer-owned cooperative
ventures. Contact NFU at firstname.lastname@example.org.