May 1, 2003
The 2002 farm bill includes provisions to implement voluntary country of origin labeling for a broad range of retail animal and crop products sold to consumers excluding food service establishments such as restaurants. These labeling requirements become mandatory by September 30, 2004. The statute provides definitions, conditions, verification models and penalties that are to form the basis for USDA's implementation of the law and that apply to those who are participants in that portion of the food chain that includes enumerated commodities.
Country of origin labeling is not a new phenomena in the United States. A large number of consumer goods, including many retail-ready food products are already labeled as to their country of origin. The labeling law also does not violate our international trade agreement commitments in that it does not impose any additional restriction in the form of tariffs, quotas or non-tariff barriers to imports and the requirements apply to both the domestic and imported commodities enumerated in the statute.
Numerous surveys and polls indicate that consumers overwhelmingly support country of origin labeling and will pay a market premium for U.S. products because labeling provides additional product information, increases consumer choice and fulfills a desire to support American agriculture and industry.
Country of origin labeling also provides U.S. producers, as well as those from other countries, with a mechanism that allows for product differentiation in the marketplace. This is really no different than the retail product differentiation sought by processors and retailers when they label or brand products as a means to gain acceptance, loyalty and increase their share of the market.
While debate over the merits of the law continues, country of origin labeling for the listed agricultural products was approved by Congress and agreed to by President Bush. It is the law of the land. We should all be focused on the development of the rules and regulations to allow for the law's implementation in the most efficient and least burdensome manner possible in a way that provides accurate and appropriate information to consumers while minimizing the cost and potential liability for producers, processors and retailers.
The Texas Farmers Union believes the implementation challenges can most easily be met by
1) Adapting the requirements of existing programs that require country of origin labeling to the new law.
2) Expanding and extending the country of origin information already collected on imported agricultural products, which represents a small portion of the total product volume subject to the act, through the U.S. processing distribution and marketing system. And
3) Allowing maximum flexibility in adapting existing record keeping and verification information and new information requirements to the audit provisions of the law.
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