Origin labeling being resurrected


If you could save, say, $1,000 on the purchase of a new car or truck because it did not have a shatterproof windshield and side glass, would you cut the deal? Of course not; the safety of you and your family is priceless.
Profits and ignorance. Yet many ag businesses, farm groups and the federal government put a price on what you eat every day by promoting, lobbying and enacting food standards that do more to ensure their profits and your ignorance than provide public information and public safety.
Sometimes this price is as little as a penny per pound, the virtual nothingness researchers from five land grant institutions in 2003 estimated it would cost to implement country of origin labeling (COOL) for all food sold in the U.S.
COOL, remember, was a new element to the 2002 farm bill that mandated country of origin labeling for most retail food by Sept. 2004.
But big meatpackers, major livestock groups, some Congressional players and a reluctant U.S. Department of Agriculture worked together to keep COOL in the D.C. deepfreeze; it still has not been fully implemented.
In the dark. As such, American consumers are still in the dark – especially so for meat – when it comes to the country of origin for most of their food.
The silver bullet used by agbiz and their livestock allies to cripple COOL was – and remains – money: all complained it is too costly.
For example, a 2003 National Pork Producers Council-funded study concluded full implementation of COOL would cost producers $10.22 per head, drive down domestic consumer pork demand by 7 percent and slice U.S. pork exports 50 percent by 2010.
The study was a worse-case examination, but it – and other gloomy reports by USDA and food lobbyists – had best-case results: COOL was shelved for most foods sold here.
Revived. But COOL is now moving again for several reasons.
First, the 2002 farm bill is undergoing a rewrite and COOL proponents are again pushing Congress to make the law’s implementation a priority in 2007. (So far, however, the anti-COOL giants appear to be winning this second round, too.)
Second, the current pet food debacle – tainted Chinese wheat gluten in scores of U.S. dog and cat food brands – has again spotlighted the near powerlessness of under-funded, under-staffed and under-motivated U.S. food inspection agencies to keep tabs on the fast-moving, globalized food biz.
Third, even as the patchwork network of federal food inspection agencies becomes more overwhelmed by their growing tasks, other federal agencies are looking for ways to open the nation’s food import door even wider.
If it fails. For example, USDA continues to work on rules that will permit the U.S. to import over-30-month-old cattle from Canada, a practice that was halted when Canada’s first BSE-positive, or mad, cow was found in 2003.
USDA, Canada and multinational meatpackers insist the risk posed by these older cattle to American consumers is “minimal” and that imports should resume.
USDA is also working on rules that will permit:


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com