Government cost estimates of a country-of-origin labeling program is questionable and not well supported, according to a report released by congressional auditors.

The General Accounting Office report undermines an argument against the labeling requirements, which are set to take effect in September 2004.

USDA estimates the cost of filing the paperwork for the first year of the program would be $1.9 billion. The report says USDA ``could provide no documentation to support its estimates,'' and it assumed an hourly rate of $50 for processors to develop and maintain a record system, which was more than double the hourly rates it used in recent estimates for other programs.

COOL opponents claim the program is too cumbersome and costly. While supporters contend it allows consumers to choose between domestic and foreign meat products, and will help U.S. producers by raising meat prices.

COOL is required for pork, beef, lamb, fish, perishable farm commodities and peanuts. The GAO report, also found that seven of 10 U.S. trading partners require COOL for at least one of those goods.

For more information about COOL, go to: http://www.ams.usda.gov/cool/

Associated Press

Pork magazine's COOL Special Section