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Peterson: No change in COOL date

WASHINGTON - House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., says he is determined that mandatory country-of-origin labeling for red meat will go into effect, but he does not support efforts to move up the date of implementation fr...

WASHINGTON - House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., says he is determined that mandatory country-of-origin labeling for red meat will go into effect, but he does not support efforts to move up the date of implementation from Sept. 30, 2008, to Sept. 30, 2007.

The 2002 farm bill called for mandatory country-of-origin labeling for red meat, seafood, peanuts and fresh fruits and vegetables, but Congress has used appropriations bills to delay implementation of the labeling for all but seafood until Sept. 30, 2008. The National Farmers Union and 215 other farm groups that support mandatory labeling recently called for the implementation date to be moved up.

But Peterson told those attending the National Farmers Union convention March 2 in Orlando, Fla., that he considers the regulations USDA has written to implement mandatory labeling unworkable and that he wants the agency to rewrite them so that the labeling regime will be effective. But Peterson also said that he has told the American Meat Institute, which represents big packers, Tyson, the Arkansas-based meat company, and the Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocery stores, that mandatory labeling "will happen no later than September of 2008." If agribusiness tries to get Congress to repeal mandatory labeling, Peterson told reporters March 8 in Washington, supporters will push for a floor vote and it will pass "by 300 votes."

'Marriage' inevitable

Peterson also told the Farmers Union and reporters that he thinks mandatory country-of-origin labeling will lead to a system of mandatory animal identification for meat animals so that diseases can be traced quickly. The Bush administration proposed mandatory animal identification to reassure foreign customers after the discovery of the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease in December 2003, but ranchers and farmers have reacted so negatively to the idea that Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has said the administration now favors a voluntary system of animal identification. But Peterson noted that other developed countries have systems of mandatory animal identification.

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"In the end, these (two systems) are going to get married," he said.

Meanwhile, the Food Marketing Institute, which represents food retailers and wholesalers, said last week that mandatory country-of-origin labeling for seafood is failing to deliver the benefits promised by the law because it has not increased sales of U.S. seafood and cost much more to implement than USDA had estimated. FMI also claimed that based on case studies of its members, the cost in the first year per store has been $9,000 to $16,000 compared with the $1,530 USDA had estimated. FMI said the cost for suppliers had been $200,000 to $250,000 compared with the $1,890 USDA estimated. FMI suggested that the mandatory scheme be replaced with an industry-led marketing program.

Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, said in a telephone interview that Alaska salmon has been eligible for trade adjustment assistance because of import competition. Vinsel said that country-of-origin labeling for seafood had been so effective that the prices of salmon species that are sold fresh and covered by the labeling law have gone up so much that those fishermen no longer are eligible for payments, while the price of salmon sold in cans still is so low fishermen who catch those species still come under the program. Vinsel also said that the "wild caught" and "farm raised" labels are vital to informing consumers about Alaskan wild salmon.

A spokeswoman for the Southern Shrimp Alliance said it supports mandatory labeling and that the labeling works "hand in hand" with marketing programs.

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