Vilsack to Hold Briefing on MCOOL

Published on: 15:20PM Feb 17, 2009
By Jim Wiesemeyer

via a special arrangement with Informa Economics, Inc.

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No changes in prior USDA rule expected, but very close monitoring will follow

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, according to sources, will call House and Senate members on Tuesday about mandatory country-of-origin labeling (MCOOL) rules, reportedly informing them that there will be no changes in prior USDA-issued rules, but that USDA will very closely monitor implementation and compliance in the months ahead, to see if changes are needed. If that announcement is confirmed, it would echo recommendations from House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).

Vilsack has scheduled a press briefing for 9 am CT Wednesday in Washington, DC, on the final rule for MCOOL.

Vilsack will also reportedly meet with meat industry executives on Tuesday, about the same topic, contacts add.

Some groups will be happy, other groups not so. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently contacted Vilsack to request that he abide by the congressional intent of MCOOL. In a letter to Vilsack, the senators said they are “concerned with loopholes granted in this rule, which allow meatpackers to put a multiple country of origin label on products that are exclusively U.S. products as well as those that are foreign.” The senators said the USDA regulations defeat the primary purpose of COOL — “provide clear, accurate and truthful information to American consumers.”

“If we are just creating a system to label all products as multiple country origin, there is no value in COOL and no benefit to the consumer,” the letter stated.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) has been pushing hard for MCOOL rule changes. The organization's biggest concern is a provision that allows products such as ground beef to be labeled as having several countries of origin, communications director Liz Friedlander said. "We want the law to be implemented as Congress intended it to be," she said.

But when USDA issued its prior MCOOL final rule, some livestock producers and packers applauded the flexibility of being able to commingle American and foreign meats, and the change prompted Canada to table its World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint against the labeling plan.

The R-CALF USA group also contacted Vilsack to request that meatpackers must be prohibited from labeling meat derived from animals exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. with a mixed-origin label.

Also, Vilsack previously announced that he had reversed a Bush administration cut in the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program that would have taken $3.2 million to use those funds to enforce MCOOL. "It is clear from what President Obama has indicated to me, that he wants this department to promote nutrition through the use of healthy fruits and vegetables, and so we are withdrawing that rescission so that those resources can be made available,” Vilsack said. The original decision was made by former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, who told congressional leaders he planned to transfer $3.2 million from the block grant program to pay for education activities and enforcement responsibilities of MCOOL.

Comments: If Vilsack's announcement is along the lines I have reported, the groups and senators seeking changes will not give up and they, along with USDA, will very closely monitor implementation and compliance, and will not hesitate to seek changes if the MCOOL process doesn't go the way they favor. But this issue has never been a smooth one, so this issue is far from over.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.