September 23, 2008

The Wall Street Journal reports on Country of Origin Labeling on Some Meats, Produce and Nuts

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that starting September 30th, supermarkets and food retailers will be required to sell most meats, produce and nuts with a country of origin label (COOL). This is good news for consumers who prefer to buy local goods and those concerned with food safety.

The new regulations are part of the 2008 Farm Bill. Stores will have a six month grace period to comply with the new regulations and after that, they will face a fine of $1,000 for each violation. 

The article was fairly well-balanced in it’s examination. Besides covering various consumer concerns such as health and safety issues, it also mentions topics on local farming. While WSJ did spend a large amount of time exploring what the new regulations will cost retailers, they also discussed how these new regulations could be taken to the next level. According to the article, Sarah Klein, an attorney in the food-safety program at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said that eventually her group would like to see labeling that shows the farm or ranch where food originated. 

On the downside, WSJ.com also produced a rather lame video about the new regulations and consumer opinion. Basically, the video seems to be questioning if people even care where their food comes from. 

Jeff Nield of Treehugger.com takes a more thoughtful look at the country of origin labeling. He writes that though most applaud the new regulations, others don’t feel the new regulations go far enough. Many retailers such as butchers and manufacturers of processed foods do not have to comply with the new regulations because of a loopholes. Nield spoke to Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union, the organization that publishes Consumer Reports: 

“This means that no ham or bacon or roasted peanuts will indicate their country of origin,” says Halloran. Mixtures, such as mixed frozen vegetables or trail mix are also exempt. “These exemptions are unnecessary and defeat the purpose of the law. Wherever there was any doubt, USDA seems to have come down on the side of industry and created the largest possible exemptions. We hope some of these problems can be addressed in the future,” said Halloran.

Though a lot more can be done, it seems that the new labeling regulations are good start and I look forward to seeing where they lead. Hopefully, this is not the end of the story. 

To learn about the details of the 2008 Farm Bill, go to countryoforiginlabel.org


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