by Amy Lesperance, NFU Intern

Farmers Union has always supported mandatory labeling as a promotional tool for our domestic producers to highlight the superiority of their products.  American producers are proud of their products and want consumers to know when they are buying the best. In order to dispel some common misperceptions about Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), particularly as the end of the public comment period for the proposed COOL rule nears, let’s take some time to review a few of the rumors out there and compare them to the facts.

Some opponents of COOL have suggested that U.S. consumers do not care about Country-of-Origin Labeling, but there have been numerous surveys and polls showing that the overwhelming majority of consumers support COOL and will pay a market premium for U.S. products.  Where the discrepancy comes in is that most consumers are under the incorrect impression that if a product carries a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection and grade designation sticker, the product is of U.S. origin. However, that sticker means that a USDA inspector deemed it acceptable and gave it a grade. It has nothing to do with where or how the animal from which the product came was raised, and so many consumers are easily misled and wrongly believe that the meat they purchased was of U.S. origin.

Meatpackers, processors, and retailers have tried to convince regulators that the cost and regulatory burden of COOL compliance will substantially increase consumer food costs, or reduce producer returns. However, despite the Bush administration’s exaggerated initial cost projection of $2 billion the first year, multiple studies have found the average cost to individual consumers to be negligible. In fact, the Bush administration made a number of incorrect judgments concerning compliance costs by assuming all U.S. producers would bear these costs when, in fact, many farmers do not raise livestock.

Another common complaint about COOL is that the U.S. labeling law violates our trade commitments. In reality, the World Trade Organization (WTO) recently ruled that the law itself fulfills the legitimate objective of informing consumers about the origins of their food without violating our trade agreements. However, the law was implemented in a way that does not provide accurate information and therefore is not fulfilling that requirement. The simple regulatory changes outlined in USDA’s proposed rule would solve this problem in a common-sense way without undermining the law.

Opponents claim that effective COOL requirements will be costly or burdensome to producers, consumers, or retailers, but that is also untrue. Since 2008, when the law was first implemented, not a single farmer, meat processor, or grocery store has gone out of business due to COOL. The law does not require costly third-party verification, and USDA has stated that the current information and records being kept are sufficient to fulfill the requirements of the proposed rule, so there will be no additional information collection burden.

Ultimately, those who want to keep COOL information from American consumers are those who profit from importing foreign foods and stand to gain the most by limiting information to consumers. American farmers and ranchers produce the best food in the world, and we want consumers to know what they are buying. Anyone who is trying to persuade you otherwise certainly does not have the interests of farmers and consumers in mind.

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