Jan. 22, 2004
Senate Vote Denies Consumers Crucial Information About Their Food
Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program
Today’s vote by the Senate to approve the omnibus appropriations package means that consumers will remain without a piece of vital information about the food they and their families eat: its country of origin. The budget package contains a provision that will delay the implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) until 2006, effectively killing the program. The 2002 Farm Bill required mandatory country-of-origin labeling to be implemented by September of this year. This vote is a slap in the face to U.S. consumers as well as family farmers and ranchers, all of whom would benefit from the labeling program because they could distinguish their products in the marketplace.
The past six months have provided several vivid examples of why consumers need to know where their food comes from. The discovery of mad cow disease in two animals of Canadian origin (one in Canada in May and one in the United States in December) as well as the hepatitis A outbreak in Pennsylvania, which was caused by green onions from Mexico and sickened more than 600 people, were high-profile reminders of the distance food travels and the varying circumstances under which it is produced. Yet when consumers go to the grocery store, they have no way to differentiate between foreign and domestic products. Where food is shipped from can indicate the conditions under which it was grown and is a basic piece of information that consumers should have to enable them to make informed choices.
Congress now should revisit this matter in separate legislation and instruct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to act swiftly to implement country-of-origin labeling on schedule.