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Voluntary Country-of-Origin Labeling Program Unveiled

posted on June 18, 2004

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.

Economic snapshots provided by the government this week were all sharply in focus. But the happiest faces were found in the financial markets, which reacted positively to news that Alan Greenspan had been nominated to a fifth term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.

Greenspan is the man with his finger on the "interest rate button" -- a critical job given the latest inflation figures. Stoked by more expensive food and energy products, consumer prices in May registered their largest increase in more than three years. To keep inflation in check, and with the economy getting stronger, analysts say the Fed is poised to raise interest rates for the first time in four years.

In Washington, meanwhile, Congress has been busy moving on some long dormant issues. Lawmakers are using a corporate tax reform bill designed to end a trade standoff with Europe to carry other proposals. Among them, are a $10 billion buyout for tobacco farmers and energy plans that will boost the production of ethanol.

There's also bipartisan support for a new County of Origin labeling law that comes with a different twist.

Voluntary Country-of-Origin Labeling Program Unveiled On Tuesday, members of the House Agriculture Committee unveiled legislation establishing a voluntary country-of-origin labeling program for the United States.

Known as the Food Promotion Act of 2004, the bill is co-sponsored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Ranking Minority Member, Charles Stenholm of Texas.

In addition to bipartisan support in the House, the proposed legislation is being endorsed by 325 key farm groups representing the nation's farmers, ranchers and fishermen.

A mandatory country-of-origin labeling program, known as COOL, originally was scheduled to be implemented this September. But due to complaints from various constituencies within the food industry, it has been delayed two more years.

USDA estimates the cost for implementing the mandatory program could be as high as $3.9 billion in the first year alone.

Goodlatte called the mandatory system "onerous" and said his proposal would abolish it in favor of a rigorous voluntary program.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Bob Goodlatte - R, Virginia: "Since the passage of the Farm Bill, many farmers and ranchers closely examined the issues associated with implementing the mandatory C.O.O.L. law. It quickly became apparent that it would be extremely costly, burdensome to the food production system and would result in virtually no benefits to producers or consumers."

Other source verification programs also are being considered by lawmakers. After the first domestic case of Mad Cow Disease was discovered last winter in Washington State, industry watchdogs repeatedly have called for a national Animal Identification Program to be implemented.

But Stenholm, who operates a farm in Texas, draws a distinction between food safety issues and marketing issues.

Charles Stenholm, Ranking Minority Member, House Agriculture Committee: "The BSE detection prompted renewed discussions of mandatory country-of-origin labeling with many implying a link between country-of-origin labeling and food safety. There is no such link. COOL is not a food safety issue. It's a marketing issue."

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