USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday announced that the final rule for the country-of-origin labeling program will go into effect as scheduled on March 16th. He also released a letter spelling out additional voluntary labeling practices that encourage industry stakeholders to adopt even more stringent practices.

"I strongly support country-of-origin labeling - it's a critical step toward providing consumers with additional information about the origin of their food," said Vilsack. "The Department of Agriculture will be closely reviewing industry compliance with the rule and will evaluate the practicality of the suggestions for voluntary action in my letter."

Vilsack expresses concerns in his letter about labeling products of mixed origins. He also is concerned over labeling processed foods and the time allowances for labeling ground meat products. He goes on to ask processors to go beyond the current guidelines in defining where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

The letter also requests use of country-of-origin labeling on products that are cured, smoked, broiled, grilled or steamed. The items are excluded in the present COOL regulations. He also wants to limit the gap between when a product from a country was not present in a processor's inventory and when labels are changed to reflect that to 10 days instead of the 60 days allowed by law.

The COOL regulation requires labeling for ground beef (including veal), pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng sold by designated retailers. These commodities must be labeled at retail to indicate the country of origin.

For Vilsack's full letter, click here.

Source: USDA