USDA says December would be the earliest it could finalize guidelines for the new, voluntary country-of-origin labels on meat, produce and fish.

Under the new Farm Bill, Congress mandated USDA implement the program this month. The labels will inform consumers where meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables and peanuts originated. Only items raised and processed in the United States can be labeled as a U.S. product.

USDA Under Secretary J.B. Penn says proposed regulations for the program will be published in the National Register in the next few days. That will be followed by a 60-day public comment period and then more time for the USDA to finalize them.

How the USDA implements the new program is being closely monitored by all related sectors as the Bush administration has openly opposed labeling. The labels will start as a voluntary system and then become mandatory after two years.

The exact specifications of the rules will be crucial to the pork industry. With the large amounts of Canadian feeder pigs being fed in the United States, how that pork is labeled, and whether it is discounted, will be important.

Iowa Farm Bureau