There are just days left before the mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) regulations go into effect on Sept. 30. Are you ready?
When USDA–Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)released its interim final rule on COOL in late July, it created confusion for the livestock and meat industries. Many producers worry that the rule will require additional record keeping and increase costs.
There is no question producers will have to verify the origin of their cattle before selling, but there are lingering questions as to how. Colin Woodall of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) in Washington, D.C., says most cattle producers should already be able to prove animal origins, but NCBA is working with other industry groups to make sure the process is as simple for producers as possible.
"The law doesn't require an industry standard [record-keeping system]. All records are considered valuable. NCBA advocated for this much flexibility, and we are glad we got it," Woodall says. That includes any type of on-farm record-keeping system, whether it's computerized or not.
Some producers may already be compliant. "If a producer is already in a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) program, he doesn't need to worry about adding anything to it," Woodall says. He predicts that producers not using an NAIS program will be required to sign an affidavit at the point of sale as to the origin of an animal or group of animals.
Will it make a difference? "Overall we are pleased with the COOL legislation. I think we are going to finally see the impact American beef has on the marketplace," Woodall says. "We are not sure it will cost [producers] near as much as USDA anticipates it will. It's a hard question to answer until packers and distributors make up their minds on how to proceed."
The largest burden will likely be on food distributors. The Food Marketing Institute is planning joint education and Web seminars to prepare members for COOL implementation, says Bill Greer, director of communications.
Links to access affidavits
The Sticker on the Package: What to Expect?
What are your country of origin labeling choices? USDA–AMS has identified four categories of food product origin.
1. U.S. Origin. Perishable agricultural commodities, pecans, ginseng, peanuts and macadamia nuts must be grown in the U.S. Beef, lamb, pork, chicken and goat meat must be either: 1) born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S., or 2) present in the U.S. on or before July 15, 2008, and, once present, remain continuously in the U.S.
2. Product of Country X and the U.S. If an animal was born, raised and/or slaughtered in the U.S. and was not imported for immediate slaughter, the origin of the resulting meat products may be designated as Product of the U.S., Country X and/or Country Y, where Country X and Y represent the actual or possible countries of foreign origin. If an animal is imported into the U.S. for immediate slaughter, the origin of the meat products is designated as Product of Country X and the U.S.
3. Product of Country X. Imported commodities for which origin has already been established as born, raised, slaughtered or grown in Country X and for which no production steps have occurred in the U.S. shall retain their origin as declared to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the time the product entered the U.S.
4. Commingled products. Excluding ground meat products, a commingled covered commodity is a single type of commodity presented for retail sale in a consumer package that has been prepared from raw material sources having different origins. If the retail product contains two different types of covered commodities, it is considered a processed food item and is not subject to mandatory COOL. For those commodities not substantially processed in the U.S. but commingled with imported and/or U.S. origin commodities, the declaration shall indicate the countries of origin in accordance with CBP marking regulations (19 CFR part 134).
Consensus on paper trail for COOL
John McBride, director of information at Livestock Marketing Association (LMA), knows it will be critical for sale barn operators and producers to be aware of their specific responsibilities in the COOL process. While he is concerned that record keeping and paperwork could overburden producers and livestock markets until a concrete plan is decided upon, many questions will remain in limbo.
In response to that, an industry wide meeting took place at the end of August to work on a workable solution for all parties involved.
At that meeting 70 representatives of over 30 livestock industry groups, worked to develop Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) affidavits to ensure beef was accurately labeled at the retail level.
According to LMA that objective was reached with the development of three universal "Country of Origin Affidavit/Declaration" statements. These statements are being recommended to USDA.
The COOL law requires packers to maintain country of origin records for one year, and they must be able to obtain records from their immediate suppliers within that period, to substantiate COOL claims. This statement says the livestock supplier will maintain those records for one year from date of delivery of the livestock, and will make them available, as required by the COOL law.
Producers are reminded that, in addition to using this new affidavit/declaration of origin process, USDA is permitting packers to rely on an official ear tag and/or marking on animals that are part of a National Animal Identification System compliant system, or other official ID system, such as the Canadian or Mexican official systems.