MORE THAN 85 organizations have joined efforts in support of mandatory country-of-origin labeling for fresh produce and meat products. The coalition, consisting of consumer, livestock, fruit and vegetable and other organizations, sent joint letters to Senate Agriculture Committee leadership asking the food labeling provision be included in the Senate version of the farm bill.

The letters to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Agriculture Committee chairman, and Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., support S.280, the Consumer Right to Know Act of 2001. The bill requires country-of-origin labeling at the point of sale for fresh fruits and vegetables and for muscle cut and ground meat products, including beef, pork and lamb. Under S.280, fresh produce must be grown and processed in the United States and meat products must be from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States to be labeled as “Made in the USA.”

“The groundswell for mandatory country-of-origin labeling for produce and meat products is strong,” said Leland Swenson, president of National Farmers Union and one of the letter's cosigners. “Country-of-origin labeling is a critical part of the American consumer's right to make informed decisions about the food they feed their families.”

The letter quoted multiple national surveys, in which more than 70 percent of produce shoppers supported country-of-origin labeling for fruits and vegetables and 86 percent of Americans preferred country-of-origin labeling for meat products.

In Florida, where such labeling has been the law for more than 20 years, more than 95 percent favor produce-origin labeling in stores.

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a similar country-of-origin labeling measure as part of its farm bill package. The House legislation mandates labeling for fresh produce only.