Final COOL rule heads to Federal Register
WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer sent the final rule for country-of-origin labeling for meat and some other agricultural products to the Federal Register Jan. 9 even though some farm and ranch groups had urged him to let the Obama a...
WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer sent the final rule for country-of-origin labeling for meat and some other agricultural products to the Federal Register Jan. 9 even though some farm and ranch groups had urged him to let the Obama administration issue it.
He also told reporters Jan. 8 that he has made or hopes to make several other big decisions before the Bush administration ends Jan. 20.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which endorsed President Bush for re-election in 2004 and opposed labeling, had urged Schafer to sign the final rule. The National Farmers Union, which promoted labeling and expressed intense displeasure when some meatpackers said they were planning to label all beef North American, had proposed waiting.
Schafer and Deputy Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner said the Administrative Procedures Act kept them from discussing the final rule Jan. 8, but Schafer said USDA's clarification of the rule so that meat from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States must be labeled as a U.S. product rather than North American should resolve the most contentious issues surrounding labeling.
The Canadian and Mexican governments, which contend the labeling hurts their meat industries, have filed World Trade Organization requests for consultations with the United States about it, but Schafer, who signed a North Dakota meat labeling law in 1997 when he was governor of that state, said he thinks labeling is a matter of providing consumer information.
"This is not a food safety issue, a competition issue or a trade issue. This is a marketing issue," he said.
Schafer also said he had convinced USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong to launch an audit and investigation of the soybean checkoff, a fee farmers pay for promotion and research. The American Soybean Association has charged that the United Soybean Board, which administers the money, has misspent it.
Schafer also said he expects to sign the first federal loan guarantee for a commercial cellulosic ethanol plant before he leaves office. Schafer said the plant he expects to get the loan guarantee is Range Fuels of Silverton, Ga. He declined to state the amount of the guarantee, but said the 2008 farm bill authorizes USDA to make loan guarantees up to $250 million for such plants.