Iowa Public Television


Country-of-Origin Labeling Put into Effect

posted on October 3, 2008

In the wake of a widening scandal over melamine-tainted milk that has claimed four lives and sickened more than 54,000 children, Chinese officials this week promised to improve their country's food safety measures.

Even before the uproar over contaminated milk, China's manufacturing industry had been under intense scrutiny after the industrial chemical melamine and other industrial toxins were found last year in exports ranging from toothpaste to pet food.

China's milk scandal and an outbreak of food borne illness in the United States blamed on salmonella-tainted Mexican peppers earlier this year, are prompting growing concern over the safety of imported foods.

But, new regulations went into effect this week that will ensure U.S. consumers now will be able to "buy American" with confidence.

Country-of-Origin Labeling Put into Effect On Tuesday, USDA put into effect a 2008 farm bill provision requiring mandatory country-of-origin labeling, or COOL. The law requires retailers to notify customers of the country of origin...including the U.S... of a variety of commodities, specifically big agricultural items like beef, pork and chicken. Others include lamb, goat, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and ginseng.

Some fresh produce companies already use COOL as a selling point such as "Fresh from Florida" or "Vidalia Onions." Fish and shellfish have had origin labeling since 2005, but they have faced problems. Audits have shown errors with these existing programs, and some producer and consumer groups say USDA has not written strict enough rules to enforce the law. Retailers are required to keep records on the covered products so the country of origin can be traced back to the supplier.

The COOL law mandating such labels first passed in 2002, but lobbying by grocery stores and large meatpackers led Congress to delay the Department of Agriculture from implementing it. Now in effect, USDA officials are calling on the Bush administration for more money to enforce COOL. They estimate it will take 9.6 million dollars to ensure packers and retailers are complying with the law.

Tags: dairy food food safety groceries news salmonella shopping USDA