The law, the 2002 farm bill, requires that packaging for selected cuts of beef, lamb and pork; ground beef, ground lamb and ground pork; farm raised fish and shellfish; wild fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables); and peanuts include the country of origin.

In addition, the labeling for fish and shellfish must include and distinguish between wild and farm raised fish and shellfish.

Analysts say the mandatory country-of-origin labeling could cost as low as $500 million and as high as $3.9 billion in the first year and $100 million to $600 in each year following.

USDA said commodities can be excluded from mandatory COOL requirements if they are an ingredient in a processed food item. Examples of covered commodities excluded under this provision of the proposed rule would be bacon, orange juice, mixed nuts and fruit/vegetable party trays.

Food service establishments, such as restaurants, lunchrooms, cafeterias, food stands, bars, lounges and similar enterprises are exempt from the mandatory country of origin labeling requirements.

Under the proposed rule, a covered commodity can only bear a "United States country of origin" declaration if certain criteria are met.

  • For beef, the covered commodity must be derived exclusively from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States, including animals that were born and raised in Alaska or Hawaii and transported for a period not to exceed 60 days through Canada to the United States and slaughtered in the United States.
  • For lamb and pork, the covered commodity must be derived exclusively from an animal that was born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.
  • Farm raised fish and shellfish covered commodities must be derived exclusively from fish or shellfish hatched, raised, harvested and processed in the United States.
  • Covered commodities for wild fish and shellfish must be derived from fish or shellfish harvested in the waters of the United States or by a U.S. flagged vessel and processed in the United States or aboard a U.S. flagged vessel.
  • In the case of perishable agricultural commodities and peanuts, the covered commodities must be derived exclusively from produce or peanuts grown in the United States.

    The proposed rule also outlines the requirements for labeling products of mixed origin including products produced both in foreign markets and in the United States as well as labeling requirements for blended products. Additionally, recordkeeping requirements for retailers and their suppliers are outlined.

    The full text of the proposed rule will be published in the Oct. 30 Federal Register. Comments may be sent via e mail to: cool@usda.gov or sent regular mail to: Country of Origin Labeling Program; USDA Agricultural Marketing Service; 1400 Independence Ave., SW Stop 0249; Washington, D.C. 20250 0249, no later than Dec. 29, 2003. Copies of the proposed rule and additional information can be found at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/COOL.

    e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com