WASHINGON — More than two years after the 2002 farm bill put into motion a review of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 in regards to the labeling of produce, meat (including beef, pork, veal and lamb) and seafood with country of origin information, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House Agriculture Committee to initiate voluntary country of origin labeling (COOL).

At a press conference June 15, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm, explained the bill, which at its introduction had 13 sponsors and the support of 325 organizations.

The bill allows producers to work with processors and retailers to provide labeling information in the marketplace in such a way that informs consumers and benefits producers.

“The legislation will strike the onerous mandatory system and require the secretary of agriculture to establish in its place a rigorous voluntary program,” says Goodlatte. “This will allow producers to work with processors and retailers to provide labeling information to help them market their product. This approach, which benefits consumers and producers, is preferable to a mandatory program, which is more likely to hurt the folks it was intended to help.”

The bill, available for viewing at http://agriculture.house.gov/press/108/pr040615.htm, provides for labeling of beef, meat products, lamb, pork, farm-raised fish, seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables as related to their country or origin and provides limitations for labeling products as U.S. country of origin without meeting guidelines for product history and harvesting, etc.

The legislation provides for a national survey to determine the extent of involvement in the voluntary program, the types and quantities of perishable agricultural commodities sold in the United States that are labeled with respect to the country of origin and consumer awareness of the labeling program. The legislation would also give the agriculture secretary authority to assess civil penalties against participants that knowingly violate the terms of the program.

The term label means a method to provide information to consumers such as a stamp, mark, placard or other clear and visible sign (including printed packaging, cello wraps, twist ties, brand tags, bands, stickers or other identifiers) affixed to or placed directly on a perishable agricultural commodity or on the display, holding unit or bin containing the commodity at the final point of sale.

Among the 325 state and national organizations on record supporting the legislation are the American Association of Meat Processors, Arkansas Grocers and Retailers, Arkansas Pork Producers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Fisheries Institute, National Meat Association, National Oilseed Processors Association, National Pork Producers Council, Retail Association of Mississippi and retail giants the Kroger Co., Tyson Foods Inc., Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and Albertson’s.