CFA Supports Country of Origin Labeling for Food

January 6, 2004
Chris Waldrop,

"The 2002 farm bill included a requirement that meat, produce, fish and peanuts be identified in the grocery store by their country of origin. The provision ordered the Agriculture Department to set up a voluntary labeling program by September 2002, with a mandatory program to be established by fall 2004. The labeling provision was favored by farm groups and a coalition of consumer groups including CFA, Public Citizen and the National Consumers League.

"Consumer Federation of America's policy resolutions have long supported country-of-origin labeling of meat, poultry, seafood and fresh produce. In addition, many polls, including a 1998 CBS News poll and two polls by the National Cattleman's Beef Association, have found overwhelming consumer support for country-of-origin labeling. Most recently, in an August 2001 poll conducted by the publisher of The Packer newspaper, nearly four of every five consumers supported mandatory country-of-origin labeling for fresh produce. In an earlier Packer poll, consumers said they would be willing to pay "a little bit more to get U.S. produce."

"Country-of-origin labeling will give consumers additional information about the source of their food. As a matter of choice, many consumers may wish to purchase produce grown and processed in the United States or meat from animals born, raised and processed here. Also, consumers may wish to either seek out or avoid meat or produce from a certain country based on reports of sanitary conditions or pesticide use in that country, or in reaction to specific incidents of disease associated with certain foods. Without country-of-origin labeling, these consumers are unable to make an informed choice between U.S. and imported products.

"The cost of mandatory labeling has been particularly controversial. The USDA estimate ranges from $500 million to $3.9 billion, a range so broad as to render it meaningless. Even if the true cost is in the higher range, the cost to consumers remains significantly low, at less than one dollar a week for the average family. These figures also represent the initial implementation of the program. After the first year, costs drop off significantly. Additionally, family farmers and ranchers have provided USDA with numerous ideas for making COOL a simple and inexpensive process, utilizing information that most producers already maintain."

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The Consumer Federation of America is a non-profit association of 300 consumer groups that seeks to advance the consumer interest through research, education and advocacy.