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Congress Killing Country of Origin Labeling for Food

From Agribusiness Examiner #269
By Al Krebs <avkrebs@earthlink.net>
July 15, 2003


HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WITHHOLDS FUNDING DESIGNED
TO IMPLEMENT USDA'S COOL RULES

DAVID ROGERS, WALL STREET JOURNAL: The House handed the food-marketing industry a victory [July 14] by approving a one-year delay in new labeling rules requiring beef, pork and lamb to be identified by country of origin when sold in supermarkets.

The 208-193 vote followed strong lobbying by grocers, packing houses and Texas cattle interests opposed to the requirements, which were slated to take effect in the fall of 2004. By withholding Agriculture Department funding for promulgation of the rules, opponents hope to delay implementation until at least 2005, while permitting similar labeling requirements for fish and produce to take effect next year.

Adopted in the farm bill last year, the country-of-origin rules retain strong support among Great Plains senators, but even in the Senate their fate is unclear. Proponents concede the costs of implementation are substantial, given imports of Mexican cattle to U.S. feed lots and young hogs from Canada and the fact that animals are often sold several times before being slaughtered.

After the recent mad-cow scare in Canada, one possible compromise could come from industry efforts to develop a sophisticated trace-back system to better identify an animal's history. Proponents argue that new technologies, such as inserting a computer chip in an animal's ear, could serve a safety purpose and yield data that could make it easier to implement the labels for marketing. . . . .

NFU EXPRESSES DISMAY OVER
REJECTION OF COOL FUNDING

National Farmers Union expressed its dismay today at the U.S. House of Representatives’ narrow defeat of legislation to uphold mandatory country-of-origin meat labeling.

The House rejected by a 15-vote margin an amendment to the fiscal year 2004 agriculture appropriations bill that Reps. Dennis Rehberg, Rep.-Montana, and Darlene Hooley, Dem.-Oregron introduced to protect implementation funding for mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork, lamb and fish. Without the amendment, the House bill essentially prevents the U.S. Department of Agriculture from implementing meat labeling by the September 2004 deadline.

"National Farmers Union, and the farmers and ranchers we represent, are disappointed by the House decision; however, this vote could have easily gone the other way," said NFU President Dave Frederickson. "Less than a majority of House members voted to block the funding for country-of-origin labeling, and more than 40 members had not made it back from their districts to vote.

"The Rehberg-Hooley amendment came close to winning despite the active opposition of the House majority leadership, President Bush, Agriculture Secretary Veneman and the giant meatpackers," said Frederickson. "They may have won this round, but our fight to protect this beneficial law is far from over.

"Farmers Union commends Representatives Rehberg, Hooley and others for their leadership on mandatory country-of-origin labeling," he said.

The Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittee [was] expected to consider the FY04 agricultural appropriations bill Tuesday, and the full Senate Appropriations Committee will follow at the end of the week.

PUBLIC CITIZEN CHARGES
CATTLE RANCHERS AND CONSUMERS
DONE A "DISSERVICE" BY REJECTION
OF COOL APPROPRIATION

WENONAH HAUTER, DIRECTOR, PUBLIC CITIZEN'S CRITICAL MASS ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT PROGRAM: The House of Representatives vote to defeat an amendment which would have restored funding to implement provisions of the 2002 Farm Bill establishing mandatory rules for "country of origin" labeling
(COOL) of meat to USDA's budget did a disservice to consumers as well as American farmers and ranchers.

The vote perpetuates the stranglehold big agribusiness has on our food supply, by delaying government rules to require country of origin labeling of meat, which could give ranchers and farmers a desperately needed way to identify their crops and livestock as products of the United States. Despite practical suggestions from small farmers and ranchers for streamlining the COOL process, the USDA instead has been taking its lead from big agribusiness, which doesn't want consumers to know where food comes from.

Throughout the process of implementing last year's Farm Bill, the USDA has used outrageously inflated cost estimates and proposed unnecessarily complicated record-keeping requirements to try to convince consumers and lawmakers that COOL should not be mandatory.

The recent Canadian BSE (Mad Cow disease) case provides a dramatic reminder of the lack of information available to consumers who are concerned about where their food comes from. Without country of origin labeling, consumers have no way to differentiate between foreign and domestic beef, limiting any benefit that might come from assurances that the United States is BSE-free. In light of this latest international food safety scare,

Congress should urge the USDA to act swiftly to implement COOL, not kill the program by removing its funding. We urge the Senate to restore the funding to implement COOL when it takes up USDA's budget.

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