via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.
One unknown is how Canada will react to
This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction
or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.
USDA on Monday issued a 233-page interim
final rule for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), meeting the
end-of-July timeline that USDA Undersecretary Bruce Knight told me in
an interview several months ago.
The rule will be published in the Federal Register on
Friday, Aug. 1. Public comments on the rule will be accepted
for 60 days following publication. Comments should be submitted at
COOL was first instituted by the 2002 Farm Bill but Congress
delayed implementation of the provision several times. The
2008 Farm Bill added several commodities that would fall under the regulations.
COOL will go into effect on Sept. 30, 2008.
Mandatory COOL requires retailers to notify
their customers of the country of origin of beef (including
veal), lamb, pork, chicken, goat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish,
perishable agricultural commodities, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia
Food service establishments are specifically exempted
as are covered commodities that are ingredients in a processed food
item. In addition, the law specifically outlines the criteria a covered
commodity must meet to bear a "United States country of origin"
to the rule:
The interim final rule contains definitions,
the requirements for consumer notification and product marking, and the
recordkeeping responsibilities of both retailers and suppliers
for covered commodities. The provisions do not affect the regulatory requirements
for fish and shellfish that were published in the October 5, 2004, Federal
As for the requirements for labeling ground meat products,
which often contain raw material sources from multiple countries,
the 2008 Farm Bill specifies that the notice of country of origin for
ground beef, ground lamb, ground pork, ground goat, and ground chicken
shall include a list of all of the countries of origin contained therein
or reasonably contained therein. The interim final provides that when
a raw material from a specific origin is not in a processor’s
inventory for more than 60 days, the country shall no longer be included
as a possible country of origin.
The requirements of the rule do not apply to covered commodities
produced or packaged before September 30, 2008.
Education outreach. In addition, during the six month
period following the effective date of the regulation, USDA's Ag Marketing
Service (AMS) will conduct an industry education and outreach program
concerning the provisions and requirements of this rule. AMS has determined
that this allocation of enforcement resources will ensure that the rule
is effectively and rationally implemented.
Slaughter facilities that slaughter animals
that are part of a National Animal Identification System (NAIS)
compliant system or other recognized official identification system (e.g.,
Canadian official system, Mexico official system) may also rely on the
presence of an official ear tag and/or the presence of any accompanying
animal markings (i.e., “Can”, “M”), as applicable,
on which to base their origin claims.
This provision also applies to animals officially identified as
a group lot.
For retailers, records and other documentary
evidence relied upon at the point of sale by the retailer
to establish a covered commodity’s country(ies) of origin must be
maintained for one year from the date the origin declaration is made at
retail and, upon request, provided to any duly authorized representatives
of USDA within 5 business days of the request.
For pre-labeled products, the label itself is sufficient
evidence on which the retailer may rely to establish a product’s
The 2008 Farm Bill modified the enforcement
provisions for both retailers and suppliers. Under the
2002 Farm Bill, civil penalties up to $10,000 per violation were specified
for retailers and suppliers. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, civil penalties
have been reduced to up to $1,000 for each violation. In addition, the
2008 Farm Bill specifies that the Secretary must provide retailers and
suppliers with a 30-day period during which the retailer or supplier can
take the necessary steps to comply with the law after receiving notice
from the Secretary. Under the 2002 Farm Bill, only retailers were provided
with this 30-day period.
In addition, the 2008 Farm Bill states that the Secretary may
fine a retailer or supplier, after providing notice and an opportunity
for a hearing, only if the retailer or supplier has not made
a good faith effort to comply with the law and continue to willfully
violate the law. The law also encourages the Secretary to enter into
partnerships with States with enforcement infrastructure to the extent
possible to assist in the program’s administration.
Of note, the definition of “United
States country of origin” has been modified. Under
the interim final rule, beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and goat derived from
animals present in the U.S. on or before July 15, 2008, and once present
in the U.S., remained continuously in the U.S., are considered U.S. origin.
The 2002 Farm Bill and the October 30, 2003, proposed rule, did
not contain such a provision.
USDA said this provision will help address the issue of the
lack of origin information on some animals currently residing
in the United States.
The 2008 Farm Bill made changes to the
recordkeeping provisions. Specifically, the 2008 Farm
Bill states that records maintained in the course of the normal conduct
of the business of such person, including animal health papers, import
or customs documents, or producer affidavits, may serve as verification.
Under the 2008 Farm Bill, the Secretary is prohibited from
requiring the maintenance of additional records other than
those maintained in the normal conduct of business. In addition to the
changes made as a result of the 2008 Farm Bill, other changes have been
made to reduce the recordkeeping burden.
The 2008 Farm Bill created several new
types of label categories intended to facilitate and simplify
compliance for the meat and poultry industries and for others. For example,
COOL continues to limit use of the U.S. country of origin for covered
meats only to items from animals that were exclusively born, raised, or
slaughtered in the U.S., with a narrow exception for those animals present
here before July 15, 2008.
For multiple countries of origin, retailers may designate
such meat products as being from all of the countries in which the animals
may have been born, raised, or slaughtered. For meat from animals imported
for immediate slaughter, the retailer must cite both the exporting country
and the United States. Products from animals not born, raised, or slaughtered
in the U.S. must designate the country of origin.
Comments: This topic has
been a battle ground for years among proponents and opponents. The 2008
Farm Bill hopefully added enough flexibility to make the program workable
and not too expensive to implement.
As for as reaction, the initial unknown is how Canada will react
to the new labeling and other provisions, as officials from that country
have previously noted anxiety about the changes.
This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or
retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.