June 18, 2003
Consumers Could Lose Right-to-Know from Vote to Cut Funding for Country of Origin Labeling
Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program
Tuesday’s decision by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee to remove funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement provisions of the Farm Bill establishing mandatory rules for “country of origin” labeling (COOL) is a slap in the face to American consumers and family farmers and ranchers.
Despite practical suggestions from small farmers and ranchers for streamlining the COOL process, the USDA instead has been taking its lead from big agribusiness, which doesn’t want consumers to know where food comes from or to give ranchers and farmers a desperately needed way to identify their crops and livestock as products of the United States.
Throughout the process of implementing last year’s Farm Bill, the USDA has used outrageously inflated cost estimates and proposed unnecessarily complicated record-keeping requirements to try to convince consumers and lawmakers that COOL should not be mandatory. With this vote, the members of the subcommittee are also caving in to the meat and food processing industries.
The recent Canadian BSE (Mad Cow disease) case provides a dramatic reminder of the lack of information available to consumers who are concerned about where their food comes from. Without country of origin labeling, consumers have no way to differentiate between foreign and domestic beef, limiting any benefit that might come from assurances that the United States is BSE-free. In light of this latest international food safety scare, Congress should be urging the USDA to act swiftly to implement COOL, not killing the program by removing its funding. We urge the full House Appropriations Committee to restore the funding to implement COOL when it takes up USDA’s budget next week.