A new report issued today by the U.S.General Accounting Office on mandatory country-of-origin labeling legislation, disputes initial cost estimates for implementing the program, but doesn’t provide any new information, says the National Pork Producers Council.

“While pork producers must be concerned about costs; costs are only half of the story,” says NPPC president Jon Caspers, a pork producer from Swaledale, Iowa. “We also must look at the fact that there are no demonstrable benefits for America’s pork producers or U.S. consumers.”

According to Caspers, USDA presented a report earlier this year estimating that COOL implementation would cost approximately $1.9 billion - costs that will ultimately be borne by retailers and meat industry processors and packers, and which will eventually be passed back to U.S.  pork producers.

“Now that the GAO report is out and raising questions on the initial USDA cost estimates for a voluntary program and is recommending that “an accurate estimate of the record-keeping burden” be performed under the final program rule, than this is all the more reason to obtain a thorough and complete cost-benefit analysis from the USDA,” he says. “Such an analysis will fully detail all costs from producer to retailer and the benefits being offered to U.S. consumers.”

The GAO report was requested by Sens. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), supporters of the legislation, who are urging that COOL be implemented without further delay.
Caspers says the GAO report highlights the fact that current federal programs, such as the National Organic Program, are not compatible with COOL in terms of similar origin identity requirements. In addition, he notes the report fails to consider that these programs are “fee for service” programs that include several costs including third party audits, record-keeping and other on-farm production fees.

NPPC is urging Congress to support replacing the current country-of-origin labeling law with a workable voluntary program for hogs and pork. “It is time to focus and sharpen the debate on the costs and benefits of the current MCOOL for both consumers and America’s pork producers,” he says.