Country-of-origin label opponents volunteer a compromise


January 19, 2004, Long standing adversaries of mandatory country-of-origin laws, food firms and meat processors have approached the U.S. Department of Agriculture with a compromise: they will participate in a voluntary labeling program if Congress repeals the current law.

This proposition may leave proponents of the law a little leery, seeing the USDA has already set up a voluntary labeling program, but it has generated few participants. Tim Hammonds, president of the Food Marketing Institute promises the response will be markedly different if industry is allowed to set up their own program.

"The current law is so burdensome that no one wanted, even on a voluntary basis, to try to implement it in its current form," Hammonds, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Industry groups are expected to hold a meeting on the issue soon and are hoping to finalize a market-driven voluntary labeling program by the spring. However, if the law is repealed, Hammonds said the industry would immediately set a deadline for the implementation of its own program, reported Reuters.

"There is widespread agreement that the mandatory program is too costly and unworkable in the real world," said Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.
"What is needed is an industry-driven framework for providing country-of-origin information that is market-driven and does not increase the cost of food," he added.

Congress in considering a two-year delay to the law that requires mandatory country-of-origin labeling on meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables from 30 September.

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