The consolidated appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month includes an extra $2 million for agricultural research, and additional funding for the USDA Farm Service Agency and conservation programs.

The FY 2004 spending bill doesn’t include money to fund implementation of the Country of Origin Labeling Law. Delaying the law’s enactment date until Sept. 30, 2006 for everything but “farm-raised fish and wild fish,” is angering proponents of the labeling provision.

The provisions approved by the Republican-controlled House in the FY 2004 omnibus appropriations bill, would block implementation of COOL for both meat and produce for two years.

While the House passed the bill and its delay of COOL implementation on Dec. 8, Senate Republican leaders were unable to secure enough votes to end debate on the measure before it departed Washington for the holidays. The Senate is expected to vote on the spending bill when it returns on Jan. 20, 2004.

Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., is calling the recent attempts to block implementation of the Country-of-Origin Labeling Law (COOL) a “blow to an important program with benefits to consumers and producers.”

Not surprisingly, Gephardt blames the possible demise of the labeling law on his Republican colleagues in the House.

“President Bush and Republicans in Congress have attempted to eliminate or significantly curb this producer- and consumer-friendly program written into the 2002 farm bill because of Sen. Tom Harkin’s, D-Iowa, leadership in the Senate,” he says.

"So far this year, the Bush administration tried to stall COOL implementation in a backroom deal with corporate lobbyists and his Agriculture Department has given the Enron-treatment to cost estimates of COOL implementation. We cannot allow the special interests to control legislation, the White House and our government.”

Gephardt says, "American families have an absolute right to know where their food is produced. If a country-of-origin label is important enough for a pair of socks or a television set, it is certainly important enough for the food that we are feeding our families. Time after time, Americans have said that they want American-produced food. COOL makes American consumers more informed, makes the food that Americans eat safer and makes American farms more profitable."

The 2002 farm bill contains language requiring retailers to provide COOL on fresh fruits and vegetables, red meats, seafood, and peanuts beginning Sept. 30, 2004. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently writing the regulations necessary for implementation of the labeling law.

“This is common information provided to consumers on virtually every other product they can buy,” says Gephardt. “Consumers should have this information about the food they eat so that they can make decisions on behalf of themselves and their families. This is a consumer’s right-to-know provision. This provision also gives public health officials the information they need to quickly trace the path of food-borne pathogens or intentional contamination of our food supply."

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com