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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Long-Awaited Country-of-Origin Labeling Goes Into Effect
Consumer Group Urges USDA to Increase Coverage of New Rule
WASHINGTON - September 30 - Today, the interim final rule for mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and several kinds of nuts goes into effect, providing American consumers with vital information they need to make informed choices about where their food is from and how it was raised. Since its inclusion in the 2002 Farm Bill, COOL has had overwhelming support from both consumers and producers, despite repeated attempts by the food industry to kill the program and delay its implementation.
"We've waited six years for COOL to take effect, and while this interim final rule is a good place to start, it's far from perfect," stated Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director. "Thanks to strong language in the recently passed Farm Bill, the USDA rules contain some improvements over the agency's previous attempts. But unfortunately, the rules also contain a massive loophole that will allow large quantities of food to go without labeling - which, given the recent scandals about the safety of imported food, is unacceptable."
Consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch is dissatisfied with the definition for which foods are "processed" - a broad definition that includes and therefore exempts from labeling over 60 percent of pork, the majority of frozen vegetables, an estimated 95 percent of peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts, and multi-ingredient fresh produce items such as fruit salads and salad mixes.
"USDA has created a loophole that allows far too much food to go unlabeled," stated Hauter. "Apparently, USDA wants us to believe that food processors can identify the origin of nuts when they are raw, but forget where they are from as soon as they roast them."
In addition to the loophole for foods that are roasted, smoked, or cured, USDA's interim final rule also exempts from labeling any product that contains two covered commodities, such as a bag of frozen peas and carrots or a salad mix that contains lettuce and carrots.
"While we're pleased that COOL has finally taken effect, USDA needs to go further to let consumers know where there food is coming from," concluded Hauter. "We encourage consumers to look for country-of-origin labels at the grocery store and if you don't see them, tell the store manager you want to know where your food comes from."
To view the Food & Water Watch letter to USDA, please visit http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/press/cool-final-interim-rule-letter-USDA