Congressional auditors, this week, described the USDA's cost estimates for the country of origin labeling program as questionable and unsupported.
The USDA estimates the cost of country of origin labeling, or COOL, at 1.9 billion dollars, but the General Accounting Office questions that amount. As part of a USDA spending bill, the House voted in July to prohibit money from being spent to implement the rules.
Now, a group of senators from beef-producing states in the northern Plains say the GAO report supports their claim for labeling requirements. South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle says the GAO report proves what he and other supporters of COOL have believed all along - country of origin labeling makes sense.
Supporters allege COOL would allow consumers to choose between domestic and foreign meat products, giving them an opportunity to know where their food is produced. Failure to implement COOL in the U.S., they say, would erode consumer confidence in American goods.
Opponents of the program include grocers, packinghouses and large livestock operations who are concerned that the cost to their industries could be higher than USDA estimates because of increases in production and shipping costs. They maintain higher costs will lead to higher prices in the supermarket. COOL is scheduled to take effect in September 2004.