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Now You Know the Origin of Your Food

by Ellen Hardy
02 October 2008, at 1:00am

US - Effective from 1 October, federal law requires meat, poultry, fish, produce, and certain nuts to display a country-of-origin label (COOL) but there are exemptions.

Boston.com reports that when concerns arise about, say, a Chinese melamine scare or a Mexican chili scare, this will make it much easier to make discerning decisions about what products to purchase. It also puts pressure - the kind producers actually feel and listen to - on countries to prioritize food safety.

When a country gets a lot of bad press over food scares, consumers will avoid its products; that is a real incentive, not an abstract one. Of course, it tars scrupulous producers with the same brush as less scrupulous ones, which I imagine will make them rather grumpy, writes the Boston reporter.

This is something people want. A Consumer Reports poll last year found that 92 per cent of Americans agree imported foods should be labelled by their country of origin.

COOL Exemptions

There are exemptions, however. These items do not require labels: meat, poultry, and fish purchased in annual amounts under $230,000; organ meats; processed foods; mixtures; and restaurant and cafeteria food, which includes salad bars, even supermarket salad bars. Most smaller butcher shops and fish markets won't exceed the $230,000. Processed foods could mean anything from peanut butter and roasted peanuts to bacon and Spam to cooked shrimp and smoked salmon. Mixtures includes the likes of frozen vegetable medleys, fruit salad, and trail mix. That's a lotta loophole. Will exporters simply start adding a bit of salt and calling their products processed?

The US Department of Agriculture estimates it will cost $2.5 billion to implement the law, according to a USA Today story. Of course, the labelling law will cost producers. (The meat lobby was not for this.) It will take a few months for the labels to be fully implemented.

Consumers will still have to be vigilant about what they are purchasing but now vigilance will be a bit easier, the Boston report concludes.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.

Ellen Hardy