USDA has announced the final rules for the mandatory country-of-origin-labeling  program, the  full text of which will be published in the Jan. 15, Federal Register. The rule will become effective on March 16, which is 60 days after the publication date. For copies of the final rule along with additional information, click here.

COOL originated in the 2002 Farm Bill and was further implemented in the 2008 Farm Bill. It addresses muscle cuts and ground beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (specifically fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables); macadamia nuts; pecans; ginseng and peanuts.

According to the rule, commodities covered under COOL must be labeled at retail to indicate its country of origin. Fish and shellfish must specify the production method -- wild or farm-raised. Excluded from COOL are commodities that are an ingredient in a processed food item, the designation of which has not changed from the Aug. 1, interim final rule. Such excluded items are those that undergo a physical or chemical change -- such as cooking, curing or smoking -- or that have been combined with other covered commodities or other substantive food components such as chocolate, breading and tomato sauce.

Products headed for foodservice establishments, such as restaurants, lunchrooms, cafeterias, food stands, bars, lounges and similar enterprises, also are exempt.

The final rule outlines the specific requirements for labeling covered commodities, as well as retailers' and suppliers' recordkeeping requirements. The law includes penalties of up to $1,000 per violation for both retailers and suppliers that are out of compliance.

The final rule outlines specific criteria for a covered commodity to bear a "United States country of origin" declaration. The rule also contains provisions for labeling commodities of foreign origin, meat products from multiple origins, ground meat products, as well as commingled covered commodities.

USDA plans to make funding available to accelerate and expand training of state cooperator employees, initiate development of an automated review tracking system, conduct a retailer survey, conduct retail supply chain audits and continue conducting education and outreach activities.

Currently, USDA has cooperative agreements with 42 states to conduct retail surveillance reviews. USDA will conduct the retail reviews in the states not covered by a cooperative agreement and perform the supply chain audits.