Sep 262002
Authors: Helyna Bledsoe

In less than a week, the United States will voluntarily have a Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program in operation for several agriculture products.

The COOL program will be mandatory in two years.

The Secretary of Agriculture has until Sept. 30 to provide guidelines for labeling for meat, fruits and vegetables, peanuts and fish, said the Economic Research Service in a description of the 2002 Farm Act.

The 2002 Farm Act that will require labeling is an amendment to the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. The change requires retailers to inform consumers of the country of origin for meat, fish, fruits, peanuts and vegetables. However, food service establishments, such as restaurants and fast food chains are not required to inform consumers of their products’ country of origin.

In a survey of 1,200 consumers taken by the High Plains Journal, 97 percent supported the new legislation.

Retailers will be able to use a “United States country of origin” label only for products born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States, said a report given by the United States Department of Agriculture on their website.

The Secretary of Agriculture will set guidelines for voluntary labeling by Sept. 30. Mandatory labeling will begin no later than Sept. 30, 2004. The act will also make sure labeling is enforced by providing fines up to $10,000 for retailers failing to comply with origin labels.

Many of the costs of mandatory country-of-origin labeling rest in the record keeping and tracking systems that will be utilized and maintained to ensure country of origin labels are being used. Costs of labeling may be passed on to meatpackers, processors, retail stores, international traders and consumers.

Consumers may benefit through increased information at their point of purchase. U.S. producers may benefit as well if the “United States country of origin” label increases the demand for their products.

“It doesn’t affect me that much because as long as it passes inspection standards, it is safe for consumption,” said Jen Fletcher, a freshman microbiology and pre-veterinary and biomedical sciences major. “If I had a choice between products from different origins, I would buy the one from the United States.”

“(Labels) wouldn’t affect what I eat. The U.S. has rates and high standards that make sure food is safe enough for us,” said Keri Shafer, a freshman mechanical engineer, agreeing with Fletcher. “It would be more interesting to see where products were from. If given the choice between two equal products, I would probably buy the American goods in order to keep profits in the United States.”

The required country of origin information is going to be provided to consumers by a label, stamp, mark, placard or other clear and visible sign on the product or on the package, display, holding unit or bin containing the product, the USDA said.

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