Marketing, education will accompany COOL’s passage
Casper – On May 13, 2002 the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, known as the 2002 Farm Bill, became law. One of its many provisions required country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef, lamb, pork, fish, perishable agricultural commodities and peanuts.
However, on Jan. 27, 2004 Public Law 108-199 delayed implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until Sept. 30, 2006. On Nov. 10, 2005, Public Law 109-97 delayed implementation of mandatory COOL for all covered commodities except wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish until Sept. 30, 2008.
Now it’s 2008 and mandatory COOL is officially scheduled, as of July 29, to take effect Sept. 30. The 2008 Farm Bill expands the list of covered commodities to include chicken, goat meat, ginseng, pecans and macadamia nuts.
Commodities covered under COOL must be labeled at retail to indicate their country of origin. However, they are excluded from mandatory COOL if they are an ingredient in a processed food item.
USDA has also revised the definition of a processed food item so that items derived from a covered commodity that has undergone a physical or chemical change (e.g., cooking, curing, smoking) or that has been combined with other covered commodities or other substantive food components (e.g., chocolate, breading, tomato sauce) are excluded from COOL labeling.
“With the increase in food safety concerns, the source of our food is a much greater concern now than in the past,” says R-CALF Region IV Vice President Randy Stevenson of Wheatland. Although foodservice is not currently included in the rules, he thinks it will soon follow, either of its own accord or by requirement.
“COOL is going to keep the spotlight on the origin of food. I think price is of a concern, but I think, when it comes to food, that any mother’s number one concern is safety,” continues Stevenson.
Although Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton says COOL is not primarily a food safety issue, he does agree it will help highlight those countries with poor track records. “It’ll give the consumer the opportunity to not buy from that country, and from that standpoint I think it’ll inspire producers and processors in that country to be more diligent,” he says.
“We’ve been trying to get COOL for 10 years now, and I think the sheep industry will be happier with a more level playing field,” says Kemmerer rancher and Wyoming Wool Growers Association President Dave Julian. “Our government just gave us another predator and took away the right to protect our property, while in New Zealand you can’t even import a predator. Because of that they’re miles ahead of us right now in raising lambs. I think COOL is a good thing.”
“Our focus now is on how best to implement COOL in a manner that provides maximum benefit and minimal disruption to our ranchers,” says National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Andy Groseta in a released statement. “NCBA will continue to work on behalf of our cattlemen to put in place an effective and accurate labeling system. Additionally, we will be leading the effort to educate producers on how to comply with the new rule.”
Few people have voiced concern over the current COOL regulations becoming too cumbersome to producers. “Producers will have to have a record of the animal’s origin when it’s sold, and the USDA will audit to see if a producer does have the records to prove the animal was born and raised in the U.S,” says Hamilton, adding that calving or lambing records and brand inspections will suffice.
“I hope consumers choose our U.S. product, because when we have lamb chops next to a New Zealand or Australian product, ours is better to begin with,” says Julian. “It behooves all of us, as producers, to market a product the consumer wants and not just rely on the U.S. label. I think we’re already there with the U.S. lamb, because it is a superior product over New Zealand’s.”
“Consumers know high quality and great taste is a trademark of American beef, and we look forward to showcasing that quality when they’re shopping for our products,” says Groseta.
“If we have an opportunity to have a label for U.S. beef we’ll have to show the consumer why they should buy it,” says Hamilton. “I think it’s something that can be done, but I think there will be other countries doing it as well. We need to point out the U.S. produces a good product, and we also have to be careful as producers that we don’t let an inferior product slip into the supply. When a consumer buys a U.S. beef product and can’t cut it with a knife, that has consequences as well.”
“I’m hopeful this doesn’t result in a lot of additional paperwork, but I’ve dealt with bureaucrats and regulations that start simple but can snowball and become cumbersome,” says Hamilton of its effect on livestock producers.
The full text of the interim final rule was published in the Aug. 1 Federal Register. Copies of the interim final rule and additional information can be found at: www.ams.usda.gov/COOL. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.