D.C., September 11, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- , Associated
Press, 09/10/03: Government cost estimates
of a new program that will require meat packages to
be labeled with their countries of origin are "questionable
and not well supported," congressional auditors
said in a report released Wednesday.
The General Accounting Office report undermines an
argument against the labeling requirements, which are
set to take effect in September 2004.
Sens. Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, both D-S.D., and
Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said the GAO report is ammunition
against House legislation that would cut off funds to
the labeling program before it starts.
The Department of Agriculture estimated the cost of
filing the paperwork for the first year of the program
would be $1.9 billion. The GAO said the USDA estimates
of cost and burden on industry "are questionable
and not well supported."
The report said the USDA "could provide no documentation
to support its estimates," and it assumed an hourly
rate of $50 for processors to develop and keep a record
system, which was more than double the hourly rates
it used in recent estimates for other programs.
"This business about how this is expensive, how
it involves complicated record-keeping is nothing more
than scare talk on the part of those opposed to country
of origin labeling," said Johnson.
A call to the USDA was not immediately returned.
The program's opponents include grocers, packinghouses
and large livestock operations. They have claimed it
is too cumbersome and costly.
Daschle, Johnson and Enzi said they will introduce
a measure in the Senate that, if passed, will instruct
their colleagues working on a compromise spending bill
to strip the House measure from it.
"On shoes, they tell you what the country of origin
is. On underwear they tell you what the country of origin
is ... but I tell you those things that you wear can't
hurt you nearly as much as the things you put in your
body," Enzi said.
President Bush signed the labeling program into law
last year as part of a $190 billion farm bill. In July,
the House voted to prohibit money from being spent to
implement the rules. The measure was included in a broader
spending bill for the USDA and Food and Drug Administration.
Supporters say the program allows consumers to choose
between domestic and foreign meat products.
Daschle said the rules will serve consumers by allowing
them to know where their food was produced and will
help ranchers by raising prices for meat produced in
the United States.
The labeling is required for beef, lamb, pork and fish,
perishable farm commodities and peanuts. The GAO report,
which Johnson and Daschle requested last year, also
found that seven of 10 U.S. trading partners require
origin labeling for at least one of those goods.
The senators were joined at a news conference Wednesday
by farmers holding blue signs that said "Keep COOL,"
for country of origin labeling. More than 200 members
of the National Farmers Union are in Washington this
week to lobby lawmakers to keep the labeling.