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Bill Introduced for Voluntary Labeling

posted on May 6, 2005

On the home front, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns this week said USDA's evolving animal identification system will start out as voluntary but shift to mandatory by January of 2009.

The hope is that tracking the estimated nine billion head of cattle, hogs and poultry will limit disease outbreaks, like mad cow or bird flu.

Officials also hope programs like animal ID will calm fears about the safety of the U.S. meat supply, especially in places like Japan.

A less acceptable option to the livestock and meatpacking industries is so-called country of origin labeling, or COOL. Federal lawmakers have been battling over COOL proposals for years now, but took another stab at it this week.


Bill Introduced for Voluntary Labeling

Large meat processors and major agriculture groups got their wish this week when a bill was introduced in Congress for voluntary country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork and lamb. If passed, the bill would prevent a mandatory labeling law approved by Congress in the 2002 Farm Bill. That law is scheduled to be implemented September 30, 2006.

A Web site for red meat and poultry processors,, praises the new legislation, saying mandatory labeling would cost the industry a lot of money without significant benefit.

Many processors mix domestic and imported meat when making products like ground beef and sausage. Processors say if forced to label country-of-origin on their products, they would have to segregate operations by U.S. and imported product lines.

Proponents of a mandatory program, such as consumer groups, counter that a voluntary program would be pointless because many suppliers using imported meats simply would not participate.

However, tracking meat "on the hoof" (before it becomes hamburger) is something favored by the meat industry  particularly beef producers trying to prevent the spread of mad cow disease.

USDA secretary Mike Johanns says the ag department is about halfway through its efforts to implement an animal identification system that would lead to the ability to track animals from birth to market. However, the government has been criticized for its slow progress on the animal ID program. Some states, including Kansas, have begun their own animal ID program.


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