Two major pieces of legislation appear headed for approval in Congress. Senate negotiators have hammered out a tentative agreement on a prescription drug benefit under the massive Medicare overhaul. And House and Senate lawmakers have agreed on a broad energy bill, which will more than double the use of corn-based ethanol as a gasoline additive.
But amid filibusters on judicial nominees and standoffs on spending bills, there's still much compromise needed if Congress hopes to adjourn by Thanksgiving. Among the deadlocks to be broken is a funding measure for the country of origin labeling law, which is gaining new support in the livestock industry.
Despite the opposition of the National Pork Producers Council to country of origin labeling, or COOL ...there are now two member states which favor the mandatory labeling. This week, the North Carolina Pork Producers Council reversed its position ... and joined the Iowa Pork Producers Association in favor of the COOL.
The North Carolina group, which represents the second largest pork producing state in the nation, says COOL would have a positive impact on domestic hog prices.
Smithfield Foods, the largest meat processor in the U.S. also cited improved hog prices in its decision to support the measure ... even though the American Meat Institute continues to oppose it.
Congress still is wrestling with funding of the measure, which is scheduled to take effect in September 2004. The House version of the bill contains a measure that would stop implementation of the program for red meat for one year. However, last week, the Senate voted to urge its conferees not to adopt the House position. Conferees on the bill are expected to take up the measure within the next few weeks.
Many proponents of COOL ...which would mandate labels on red meats, seafood, peanuts, fresh fruits and vegetables ... cite that some form of country of origin labeling already exists in some 60 nations. Failure to implement COOL in the U.S., they say, will erode consumer confidence in American goods ... and cause the potential loss of huge export markets like Japan, which is demanding compliance.
The White House Office of Management and Budget says the cost of COOL is estimated at between $500 (M) million and $4 (B) billion in the first year, with annual costs thereafter of $100 to $600 (M) million dollars.