WASHINGTON — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the final rule for the Country of Origin Labeling program will go into effect as scheduled March 16. He also released a letter inviting stakeholders to follow additional voluntary labeling practices.
The rule, published in the Federal Register Jan. 15, has been under regulatory review by USDA pursuant to a Jan. 20, memorandum from President Obama’s chief of staff.
“I strongly support Country of Origin Labeling — it’s a critical step toward providing consumers with additional information about the origin of their food,” Vilsack said.
The department of agriculture will be closely reviewing industry compliance with the rule and will evaluate the practicality of the suggestions mentioned in Vilsack’s letter to stakeholders.
Those suggestions include:
Labeling of product from multiple countries of origin — In order to provide consumers with sufficient information about the origin of certain products, processors should voluntarily include information about what production step occurred in each country when multiple countries appear on the label.
For example, animals born and raised in country X and slaughtered in country Y might be labeled as, “Born and raised in country X and slaughtered in country Y.
Processed foods — The definition of processed foods in the final rule may be too broadly defined. Even if products are subject to curing, smoking, broiling, grilling or steaming, voluntary labeling would be appropriate.
Inventory allowance — Language in the final rule allows a label for ground meat to bear the name of a country, even if product from that country was not present in a processor’s inventory, for up to 60 days. This provision allows labels to be used in a way that does not clearly indicate the product’s country of origin. Reducing the time allowance to 10 days would limit the amount of product with these label and would enhance the credibility of the label.
During the regulatory review process, Secretary Vilsack determined that allowing the rule to go into effect and carefully monitoring implementation and compliance by retailers and their suppliers would provide the best avenue to evaluate the program. This evaluation period will determine whether additional rule making is necessary to provide consumers with adequate information.
The National Farmers Union and the Ohio Farmers Union applauded announcement from Vilsack, saying the previous interpretation of the rule would have allowed a “multiple countries” label, regardless of country of origin.
The groups said the new interpretation will make labeling clear and accurate.
The COOL regulation requires country of origin labeling for muscle cuts and ground beef (including veal), pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng sold by designated retailers. These commodities must be labeled at retail to indicate the country of origin.
The final rule outlines requirements for labeling covered commodities and the record keeping requirements for retailers and suppliers. The rule prescribes specific criteria that must be met for a commodity to bear a “United States Country of Origin” declaration.
The rule also contains provisions for labeling covered commodities of foreign origin.