COOL public comments closing
Although the interim final rule for Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) will officially take effect Sept. 30, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will accept public comments until Sept. 29.
Because the USDA didn’t leave time for an adequate comment period prior to the law’s requirement for COOL implementation on Sept. 30 they’re accepting comments until that date and if any prove substantive they’ll have to work up another rule, says Ken Hamilton of the Wyoming Farm Bureau.
Of the qualities of the law, Hamilton says, “I think the one thing that’s really positive is their effort to limit the amount of documentation required from producers. Right now they’ll accept a producer affidavit, avoiding the requirement of a whole bunch of new documentation to fulfill requirements.”
“Right now when a producer gets ready to sell his cattle he can sign an affidavit saying the cattle were born and raised in the U.S., or wherever they came from,” says Hamilton. “Trying to keep paperwork down is important.”
However, he says what it’ll look like 10 years from now is anybody’s guess.
In other parts of the law, Hamilton says there’s an unclear provision that would allow meat processors to label a package of U.S. beef as a product of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) was joined by R-CALF USA and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association in a letter to USDA Secretary Schafer expressing concern over reports that large meat processors intend to circumvent both the intent and letter of the labeling law.
“The law clearly states that products born, raised and slaughtered in the United States are to be labeled as a product of the United States. Despite this clear language, USDA’s rules will allow packers to label exclusively American products with those from other countries,” says NFU President Tom Buis.
The farm bill language explicitly states exclusively born, raised and processed U.S. animals cannot be used in the multiple country category.
“USDA has created a loophole big enough to drive a truck through, violating the spirit, letter and intent of the law and deceiving consumers who have consistently shown support for buying U.S. products,” says Buis. “This is about truth in labeling.”
Hamilton says he thinks it would be a good idea to affirm through comments the low amount of paperwork currently in the law. He doesn’t anticipate the USDA will make any major changes, but says, “One can never take that for granted.”
Comments must be received on or before Sept. 29, 2008, through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov, by mail to Country of Origin Labeling Program, Room 2607-S; AMS-USDA; STOP 0254; 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, D.C. 20250-0254. They can also be faxed to 202-354-4693. All comments must identify FSIS and the docket number FSIS-2008-0027. Comments will be available for view on FSIS’ website at: www.fsis.usda.gov/regulations_&_policies/. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.