June 8, 2005
Vote on Country-of-Origin Labeling Favors Industry, Not Consumers
Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Director of Public Citizen’s Food Program
Today’s vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to delay a mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirement for meat demonstrates once again that Congress is more concerned about protecting the interests of big agribusiness than providing consumers with basic information about the food they feed to their families.
If House lawmakers had listened to their constituents, they would have removed the language from the agriculture appropriations bill that delays the implementation of mandatory COOL until 2007. The 2002 Farm Bill required that mandatory COOL be implemented for meat, peanuts, seafood, and fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables sold at retail by September 2004. After intense pressure from agribusiness and the grocery industry, Congress in 2004 delayed the implementation until 2006, with the exception of seafood labeling, which took effect in April.
Without mandatory COOL, consumers have no way to differentiate between foreign and domestic meat, information that is vital in the face of increasing food imports and continued food safety worries like mad cow disease. This delay provides a perfect opportunity for the meat industry to persuade Congress to permanently adopt a voluntary labeling program. The push for a “voluntary” labeling program is little more than an attempt to kill COOL outright. The rules for voluntary country-of-origin labeling have been in effect for several years, yet most consumers never see country-of-origin labels on the meat they buy at the grocery store because most companies choose not to provide this information.
Consumers deserve full disclosure on where their meat and produce are from. We urge the Senate not to include a similar provision in its version of the appropriations bill, and for the members of the conference committee to remove the provision that delays this important consumer protection.