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Published March 20, 2013, 09:37 AM

NDFU president encourages farmers to weigh in on COOL proposal

North Dakota Farmers Union President Woody Barth says the comment period on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposed country of origin labeling law is a chance for farmers and ranchers to make their voices heard.

By: Betsy Simon , Forum News Service

Ever wonder if the beef on your dinner plate came from America or from abroad?

COOL, or country of origin labeling, could make it easier to trace where meat sold in the U.S. came from — if the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed labeling law is approved — because it would require labels on muscle cuts of beef and other meats to specify where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. It would also remove the allowance for blending of muscle cuts of different origins, according to the USDA.

The agency has opened a comment period on the proposed law. North Dakota Farmers Union President Woody Barth says the comment period is a chance for farmers and ranchers to make their voices heard.

“We need to tell our story and convey to policymakers the importance of COOL,” he says. “People deserve to know where their food comes from.”

USDA estimates that this would impact about 7,181 meatpacking firms with solely U.S. origins, including 4,335 retailers and 2,808 livestock firms.

Sam Jones-Ellard, public affairs specialist for USDA, says the majority of the costs of implementing the proposed amendments will be incurred at the packing or processing facility for prelabeled products, or at the retail level.

He says USDA’s preliminary estimates of the midpoint cost of the proposed rule for the label change is $32.7 million, with a range of $16.9 million to $47.3 million.

Jones-Ellard says the proposed rule will ensure that consumers are provided with accurate origin information for muscle-cut meats as Congress intended and will bring the U.S. into conformity with its World Trade Organization obligations.

“The U.S. remains committed to ensuring that consumers are provided with information about the origin of muscle-cut meats they buy at the retail level,” he says.

COOL requires retailers to provide their customers with information about the origin of food products they buy, including fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and shellfish.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson says COOL will allow consumers to have more information about the food they are consuming.

“Consumers want to be able to easily learn the origins of their food and farmers and ranchers should be able to let them know,” says Johnson, who is the former North Dakota agriculture commissioner. “The recently proposed COOL rule, issued in response to challenges from our trading partners in the World Trade Organization, meets the requirements set forth by the WTO and bolsters the accuracy of information provided to consumers.”

In a case brought to the WTO by Mexico and Canada in June of last year, it was found that COOL requirements for muscle-cut meats did not match the requirements of other food products.

Proponents of mandatory COOL for muscle-cut meats say labeling will provide a competitive edge for domestically produced meat and satisfy consumer demand for source information.

The North Dakota Farmers Union is urging ranchers, farmers and consumers to submit their comments about COOL to the USDA by April 11.

Comments should be submitted at www.regulations.com or by mail to Julie Henderson, Director, USDA, AMS, LPS, COOL Division, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Room 2620S, Washington, D.C. 20250.

Comment submissions may also be made by phone at 202-720-4486 or by fax at 202-260-4486.

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