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Opinion: Country-of-origin labeling will not increase food safety

by the Fish Site Editor
14 May 2007, at 1:00am

US - Contaminated Chinese wheat gluten, recently identified in America's pet food, has spurred calls in Congress for increased food-safety regulations. Yet the Senate already is considering a mandatory country-of-origin labeling law, which will add costs but won't increase safety.

Some think our safety depends on labeling laws that reveal which countries grow every ingredient in foods that shows up on supermarket shelves or restaurant menus, but that is untrue. Country-of-origin labeling confuses protection with protectionism.

The Food and Drug Administration regulates $417 billion in domestic foods and $49 billion in imports. There have been health incidents with both kinds. The mad-cow disease outbreak in 2003 and the spinach E. coli outbreak last year are examples of foreign and home-grown food safety failures.

The new labeling proposal intends to expedite retail labeling of beef, lamb, pork, fish, peanuts and fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. Two exceptions are processed foods that have been "transformed" or processed upon entering the United States because it is difficult to separate their ingredients, and restaurants and cafeterias for which labeling food would be extremely costly.

Supporters of mandatory labeling invoke disease outbreaks or even terrorist attacks, sparking calls for big-government action. Unfortunately, labeling doesn't actually help food-safety agencies locate the source of contamination, according to the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Investigating such outbreaks is a complicated and timely effort, with or without labels. If a dangerous product makes it to the shelf, the FDA has already failed.

Agri-marketing is an innovative business where suppliers change frequently. The Food Marketing Institute estimates that both suppliers and retailers would routinely have to update their labels when the labeling proposal goes into effect. This requires labor, paperwork and higher prices for consumers.

The institute found that when a retailer tested country-of-origin labeling with fruit salad, packages had to be hand-labeled since fruit comes from varying locations. The cost for each store was more than $150,000 a year, averaging $4.8 billion per year for 31,000 retailers.

Source: Azstartnet.com

the Fish Site Editor