Just days before its scheduled implementation, country of origin labeling legislation is drawing fire from both Washington and farmer groups alike. A group of 31 senators is requesting a number of changes to the interim final rule for implementing the mandatory COOL program that goes into effect Sept. 30. Topping the list of concerns is the provision that allows products of U.S. origin to be labeled as mixed origin even if the products are born, raised and slaughtered exclusively in the U.S.  The request was made in a letter sent Thursday to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer.

"It was the intent of Congress that meat product that is born, raised and slaughtered in the United States will have its own label," stated the letter from the senators, which was released by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). "This interim final rule, if left without clarification, has the real possibility of undermining the program, defying Congressional intent and the agreement between producers and the packing industry."

Also expressing their concern was the American Farm Bureau Federation. In a letter to USDA Undersecretary Bruce Knight, AFBF President Bob Stallman said, “There is now great concern that there will not be any exclusively U.S. labeled meat because many within the industry have said that the only label they will use is ‘Product of the U.S., Canada or Mexico,’”

AFBF believes meat that is exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. should carry an exclusive U.S.-origin label. Stallman stressed in his letter. “Farmers and ranchers are being told by some processors that unless they check the multiple-origin label box (to certify the origin of their animals) on their product affidavits, they will be audited. This information is completely discouraging to a producer, not to mention the fact that it is not a true statement.”

The senators also raised concerns about the rule's exemptions for processed foods, including those fried, broiled, grilled, boiled, steamed, baked, roasted, cured, smoked or restructured. They said the language exempts many food products consumers would expect to be labeled.

They also took issue with the provision that allows a processor to continue to list a country as a possible country of origin up to 60 days after raw material from that country has not been in the processor's inventory. "All the processor would have to do is keep product from the U.S. or any other country just once every 60 days, and remain in full compliance. This is a loophole and can be easily abused," the senators wrote.

The senators asked USDA to provide a safe harbor of reasonable or acceptable information that can be asked of a producer to help avoid the possibility of unreasonable requests for information that would be considered unfair or an effort to single out a particular producer.

Also on behalf of producers, they asked for guidance on how producers can verify the origin of animals purchased between July 15 and Sept. 30. Under the interim final rule, all animals present in the United States on July 15 will be considered of U.S. origin to reduce the initial tracking burden on producers.

To view the letter in its entirety and a list of those who signed it, click here .

Source: Meatingplace.com