NFU Submits Comments on COOL
Posted: Monday, September 29, 2008 11:52 am
WASHINGTON (Sept. 26, 2008) – National Farmers Union responded today to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) interim final rule for mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL), urging the department to implement the law as Congress intended.
NFU has been a steadfast supporter of the labeling law and played a key role in negotiating the compromise that allowed for the provision to be included in the 2008 Farm Bill. However, NFU President Tom Buis expressed several concerns with USDA’s interpretation.
Despite the farm bill’s clear language to the contrary, several large beef packers announced their intent to circumvent COOL by labeling all beef products under the multiple products category, ignoring the exclusively U.S. born, raised and processed category.
"Beef packers want to get around the rules and use what could be referred to as a NAFTA label on their products. There was never any intent to use a NAFTA label when this compromise agreement was reached. U.S. products should be labeled as products of the United States," Buis said.
"House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson and Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte, have both said this is not the intent of the law and Secretary Schafer has agreed. The packers ought to follow the intent of the law."
Buis urged the department to announce a possible solution before COOL’s October 1 effective date.
Buis said USDA’s interpretation of the labeling for processed food items is much broader than Congress intended. "Congress provided USDA with the latitude to define a processed food item, but did not intend for the definition to be so broad that consumers will be denied country of origin information on a multitude of food items."
NFU co-hosted an Aug. 26, 2008 industry meeting to create an affidavit and process to transfer country of origin information throughout the chain of custody. The unprecedented meeting resulted in an agreed affidavit, which NFU is urging USDA to officially recognize. Protecting producer information has been a long-held concern for NFU and Buis said because the new COOL law allow for producer affidavits to meet record keeping requirements, packers and processors should not be granted legal access to producer records by USDA’s rules, which would be a "significant conflict of interest and wholly unnecessary."
Buis urged the department to withhold publishing a final rule until a six month period has concluded, allowing adequate time to interpret the law properly and correct any mistakes.
Buis also applauded yesterday’s action by a bipartisan group of 32 senators in submitting COOL implementation comments to Secretary Schafer. The group, led by Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., demonstrates the long-standing support for mandatory COOL in Congress and the demand that the department implements the program as intended.