USDA Issues Final Rule on M-COOL

US - The United States Department of Agriculture yesterday announced details of the final regulation for the mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) program required by the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills. The rule becomes effective on 16 March, 2009, 60 days after the date of publication.
calendar icon 13 January 2009
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The rule covers muscle cuts and ground beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (specifically fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables); macadamia nuts; pecans; ginseng and peanuts.

Commodities covered under COOL must be labeled at retail to indicate its country of origin. For fish and shellfish, the method of production -- wild or farm-raised, -- must be specified. Commodities are excluded from mandatory COOL if the commodity is an ingredient in a processed food item.

The definition of a processed food item remains unchanged from the 1 August, 2008, interim final rule. Excluded from COOL labeling are items derived from a covered commodity that has undergone a physical or chemical change -- such as cooking, curing, or smoking -- or that has been combined with other covered commodities or other substantive food components such as chocolate, breading and tomato sauce.

Also exempt are food service establishments, such as restaurants, lunchrooms, cafeterias, food stands, bars, lounges and similar enterprises.

The final rule outlines the requirements for labeling covered commodities and the recordkeeping requirements for retailers and suppliers. The law provides for penalties of up to $1,000 per violation for both retailers and suppliers not complying with the law.

The rule prescribes specific criteria that must be met for a covered commodity to bear a "United States country of origin" declaration. In addition, the rule also contains provisions for labeling covered commodities of foreign origin, meat products from multiple origins, ground meat products, as well as commingled covered commodities.

USDA plans to make funding available to accelerate and expand training of state cooperator employees, initiate development of an automated review tracking system, conduct a retailer survey, conduct audits of the retail supply chain and continue conducting education and outreach activities.

Currently, USDA has cooperative agreements with 42 states to conduct retail surveillance reviews. USDA will conduct the retail reviews in the states not covered by a cooperative agreement and perform the supply chain audits.

Canadian Gov't Responds

"The bottom line is that the changes to the final rule will help to keep livestock trade moving throughout the integrated North American market and will benefit producers, consumers and processors."
Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

The Government of Canada recognizes provisions in the final rule that will help to level the playing field for Canadian producers and will strengthen the integrated North American livestock industry.

"I am pleased that key issues raised by Canada are addressed in these measures," said the Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. "Together with the provinces and industry, we will continue to assess the trade and market impact of this legislation. We have built a strong and durable trade relationship over the years with the United States and we must more than ever aggressively pursue this already robust relationship during these difficult economic times."

"This government always stands up for Canadian livestock producers and that hard work is paying off as we protect and expand opportunities for our producers within the integrated North American beef industry," said the Honourable Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. "These final regulations will help to address the concerns we’ve consistently raised with our American counterparts, and we will continue to work with the US to prevent any unfair harm to our industry."

"The bottom line is that the changes to the final rule will help to keep livestock trade moving throughout the integrated North American market and will benefit producers, consumers and processors," added Minister Day.

The final regulations will allow for more flexibility on labelling requirements in the US for meat from animals of American and Canadian origin that are brought together during a production run. Canada has repeatedly raised concerns that COOL could impose unfair costs, especially on Canadian livestock producers, by requiring the segregation of Canadian animals.

Most recently, Canada and the US held formal consultations under the World Trade Organization regarding the adverse impact of the interim regulatory measures on Canadian livestock and meat producers. Canada will continue to monitor the situation and defend Canadian producers through discussions and representations to the US at all levels.

The US and Canada are each other’s largest agricultural trading partners. In 2007, bilateral agricultural trade totalled $32.3 billion.

NFU Expresses Disappointment

National Farmers Union has been a long-time proponent of the labeling law and NFU President Tom Buis expressed disappointment at USDA's action.

“Despite the strong support from Congress, and demands from consumers and producers alike, USDA has chosen to implement COOL in a manner that does not meet Congress’ clear intent, leaving loopholes in place for those willing to circumvent the law.

“The final rule still contains a loophole that would allow meat packers to use a multiple countries, or NAFTA label, rather than labeling US products as products of the United States. This is misleading to consumers. The intent was to provide country of origin labeling, not trade agreement origin of labeling. If a product is exclusively born, raised and processed in the United States it should be labeled as such.

Mr Buis said USDA takes great liberty with the definition of ‘processed products,’ effectively leaving several food products without labels and denying consumers the knowledge of their food’s country of origin.

“The department recognizes acceptance of producer affidavits to verify compliance, which I am pleased to see," said Mr Buis.

“COOL was effective 30 September, 2008 and NFU had urged the department to withhold final judgment until COOL’s six month trial period had concluded. We will continue to monitor the implementation of COOL and if not implemented properly will not hesitate to go to Congress for changes until COOL is implemented in the best interest of consumers, farmers and ranchers.

“COOL is a vital marketing tool and it is imperative it be implemented properly,” added Mr Buis.

Further Reading

- You can view the final rule and additional information by clicking here.

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