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Should the United States' Food Origin Law be Revived?

In 2002, a Farm Bill was passed that, among other things, required beef, lamb, pork, fish, fruit and peanuts to list where they came from on the label. This country-of-origin labeling, known widely as COOL, was in place for only about a year when it was postponed until September 30, 2008 (except in relation to fish and shellfish, which has been labeled since 2005).

country-of-origin labeling

Country-of-origin labeling, which has been on hold since 2002, is still set to become mandatory on September 30, 2008.

The law was postponed, as it turns out, because of extensive lobbying from food groups -- meatpackers, grocers and others -- who said COOL, which would require food producers to maintain records on their products for a year, would be exorbitantly expensive.

Now, amid fears of tainted pet food, seafood and, now, toothpaste, from China, many consumer groups are calling for COOL to be reinstated immediately.

Why is COOL so Controversial?

While U.S. farm groups and consumer groups support COOL because it gives the public knowledge about where their food is coming from (and U.S. food growers are happy to advertise that theirs comes from native soil), many processed food producers and large food groups, including the Food Marketing Institute, oppose it.

According to the opposition, COOL would not make food safer, it would simply serve as a marketing tool (benefiting U.S.-grown foods), and impeding international trade. Meanwhile, they say the costs incurred by seafood manufacturers who implemented COOL were much higher than USDA estimates.

where your food comes from

Want to know where your food comes from now? Buy it from local farmer's markets or community-supported agriculture programs.

The USDA put first-year costs of COOL to retail stores at $1,530 per store, but a study by the Food Marketing Institute found it was closer to $9,000 to $16,000 per store.

Will Americans Find Out Where Their Food Comes From?

As it stands, opposition is still strong against COOL, but Congress has been under intense pressure to clean up America's food supply after the recent scares.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has opened a 60-day comment period on COOL rules, and it looks like the law is set to take effect on its scheduled date of September 30, 2008.

''Mandatory labeling of fruits, vegetables and meats will be implemented,'' said Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. ''It is going to happen.''

Recommended Reading

The Top Environmental Contaminants in Your Food (& What You Can do to Avoid Them)

Norway Seriously Considers an Obesity Tax. Should the U.S. Impose One Too?


Chicago Tribune June 10, 2007 Country of Origin Labeling

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