He also released a letter inviting stakeholders to follow additional voluntary labelling practices. The rule, published in the Federal Register on 15 January 2009, has been under regulatory review by USDA pursuant to a 20 January 2009, memorandum from the President’s Chief of Staff.
"I strongly support Country of Origin labelling – it’s a critical step toward providing consumers with additional information about the origin of their food," said Vilsack. “The Department of Agriculture will be closely reviewing industry compliance with the rule and will evaluate the practicality of the suggestions for voluntary action in my letter.”
During the regulatory review process, Secretary Vilsack determined that allowing the rule to go into effect and carefully monitoring implementation and compliance by retailers and their suppliers would provide the best avenue to evaluate the programme. This evaluation period will inform the Secretary’s consideration of whether additional rulemaking may be necessary to provide consumers with adequate information.
The COOL regulation requires country of origin labelling for muscle cuts and ground beef (including veal), pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng sold by designated retailers. These commodities must be labeled at retail to indicate the country of origin.
The final rule outlines requirements for labelling covered commodities and the recordkeeping requirements for retailers and suppliers. The rule prescribes specific criteria that must be met for a commodity to bear a "United States Country of Origin" declaration. The rule also contains provisions for labelling covered commodities of foreign origin.
NFU Applauds Strengthened COOL Standards
National Farmers Union President Tom Buis commended US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack for his actions to implement mandatory country of origin labelling (COOL).
“COOL has little value if products are not clearly labeled with their true country of origin,” Mr Buis said. “I’m pleased Secretary Vilsack acknowledges this and is taking the appropriate steps to ensure our food is properly labeled.”
NFU had expressed concern over the Bush administration’s interpretation of COOL, which would have allowed a “multiple countries” label to be used, regardless of country of origin. Mr Buis said the loophole would allow meatpackers to circumvent the intent of the law.
“This is about truth in labelling,” Mr Buis said. “There’s no denying the demand for country of origin labelling and under Secretary Vilsack’s guidance, consumers will know the true origin of their food.”
Mr Buis also commended the department’s effort to narrow the definition of processed, ensuring more products to be labeled.
NFU has been a long-time advocate for COOL, playing a key role in the negotiations that led to its inclusion in the 2008 Farm Bill and working with meatpackers to ensure they follow the law’s intent. Buis said the organization will be monitoring COOL’s implementation and will not hesitate to urge Vilsack to revisit the rule if necessary.
“It has taken many years to get as far as we have, but we will not rest until COOL is in place as Congress and the American public expects,” Mr Buis said.