House puts its foot down on COOL

SALEM, Ohio – Consumers may not see labels indicating where their meat came from after all.

After more than a year of controversy, the House voted Monday to freeze funding on country-of-origin labeling.

The 208-193 vote would stop the labeling system from going into effect Sept. 30, 2004, as originally planned.

The vote is part of a larger appropriations bill, which a House subcommittee is considering. A timetable for a decision on the bill has not been determined.

‘Right one.’ Ohio Cattlemen’s Association’s Elizabeth Harsh said the decision was “the right one.”

The outcome buys Congress time in fully understanding the law and seeing how it will impact the industry, she said.

Since the bill was signed last year as part of the farm bill, mounting controversy has ensued, pitting producers, processors, retailers and agricultural groups in a battle.

The labels, better known as COOL, are an attempt for producers to keep track of all records pertaining to the origin of their livestock. This information would then be on products in the grocery store.

Put up a fight. Supporters, such as National Farmers Union, expressed dismay at the vote but are confident by the vote’s thin margin.

“They may have won this round, but our fight to protect this beneficial law is far from over,” said National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson.

Others, however, are pleased that the record-keeping process required for COOL will continue to be voluntary.

“I’m glad people listened to the interests of small livestock producers like we have in Ohio,” said Dick Isler, executive vice president of Ohio Pork Producers Council.

Worries. Opponents, like the council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, worry that the high record-keeping costs would likely force some small producers out of business.

At first the program sounded innocent, he said, but it’s much more complex than originally believed. The cost of a producer’s pricey animal identification and record system would likely be passed on to packers, retailers and eventually consumers.

The opposition also argues that while COOL is masked as a food safety issue, meant to soothe consumers’ food fears, it is not.

It traces meat from the country, not the specific farm, Isler said.

In addition, Harsh questions why, if the reasoning is related to food safety, is 75 percent of meat (food service, poultry and processed food) exempt.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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