WASHINGTON - Sheep producers from around the country have been participating in the listening sessions sponsored by the USDA regarding country-of-origin labeling.
Some of the producers who testified in favor of COOL for the sheep industry were Marvin Shurley in Austin, Texas, Fred Blauert in Pasco, Wash., and Dr. Lyndon Irwin in Kansas City, Mo.
Before diverse industry crowds in excess of 200 people per location, USDA provided an overview of the law along with an explanation of its current stance regarding the upcoming regulations.
Participants commended the department for the content presented, but admitted that very little new information was disseminated.
Public input. Following the USDA introduction, approximately 60 participants were allowed to speak during the public input portion of the meeting.
Depending on the location, some sessions had more speakers in support of the law while others had more opposed.
The common theme stressed to USDA by those in support of the law was the need to keep the final regulations simple, voicing their desire to allow producer signatures to be a valid proof of origin.
Misconception. Many of those opposed to mandatory COOL stated that they were in favor of the concept but were concerned about its implementation – particularly the record-keeping portion.
They voiced their support for the enactment of a voluntary program in contrast to a mandatory program.
Also evident from the wide range of comments was the misconception among producers that a mandatory ID program is tied into the COOL provisions.
Consumers. A small number of consumers also participated.
The overall message from these speakers was that they favored the implementation of mandatory COOL and would be willing to pay higher prices for American products at the grocery, if necessary.
“To date, I believe all of the sheep producers who have given testimony at the listening sessions have expressed their support for COOL and I continue to encourage others to take this opportunity to be heard by USDA,” said American Sheep Industry president Guy Flora.
Upcoming meetings. Producers interested in speaking at future meetings are advised to arrive at the site early in order to place their name on the sign-in list to ensure participation since there has been a great deal of speaker interest.
During the sessions, USDA made it clear that it will continue to take e-mail comments until the completion of all related meetings.
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