Now that Congress is back in session from its summer break, items placed on the back burner will move forward again. Certainly a variety of world conflicts and the rising deficit will grab the lion's share of atttention, but on the ag scene, the country-of-origin labeling debate will return with a vengence.

Several farm-state senators say they will fight to preserve COOL. Among those leading the charge are Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who will offer an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill when it comes to the Senate floor. Remember that the U.S. House of Representatives approved language in its Agriculture Appropriations bill that prevents the implementation of COOL.

This week, the South Dakota senators released a General Accounting Office report that says many arguments being used by COOL opponents are not only misleading, but flat out wrong.

"The GAO found an inflated USDA cost estimate that has been used to justify delaying COOL, no documentation from USDA to defend its exaggerated costs, and a host of trade partners who already have a COOL program," say Johnson.

He challenged USDA to change its recordkeeping cost estimate, and provide the public with balanced information about the costs and benefits associated with COOL.

"This law is too important to consumers and producers that is why we will offer a bipartisan amendment to preserve it. I believe that the Senate will not support the House provision to repeal COOL," says Daschle.

The amendment will instruct Senate conferees to the Agriculture Appropriations Bill to ensure that there is no language in the final bill to stop USDA from implementing mandatory COOL.

USDA has stated that a mandatory COOL law would cost $1.9 billion to implement. According to the GAO report, "USDA used assumptions that are questionable and not well supported in developing its $1.9-billion estimate."

Daschle's office also emphasizes that the GAO report also found that:

  • USDA made an assumption that about 90 percent of farmers, ranchers, and fisherman would be subject to recordkeeping;
  • USDA could provide no documentation to support its estimates for the number of hours needed to develop and maintain a recordkeeping system.
  • USDA's assumption of an hourly rate of $50 for processors to carry out recordkeeping tasks was more than double the hourly rates it used in estimates for other programs.
  • 72 percent of U.S. trading partners (countries) already require country-of-origin labeling for one of the commodities covered in the U.S. law.

While the GAO report sheds some new and interesting light on the topic, there's plenty of finger-pointing to go around when it comes to the true pros and cons of COOL. All of this is preventing a clear perspective of the potential real-world impact from surfacing. For example, there is no "documentation to support" that COOL will benefit either the U.S. consumer or the U.S. meat industry in anyway.

Pork magazine's COOL Special Section