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Country-of-Origin Labeling Loopholes Leave Consumers in the Dark
Statement of Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director
WASHINGTON - January 12 - "The Bush administration has been working hard in its last weeks to roll back consumer protections, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's decision to finalize an inadequate rule for country-of-origin labeling is no exception. Today, USDA released its final rule for mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and several kinds of nuts, and it includes a massive loophole that will allow large quantities of food to go without labeling.
"Given the recent scandals about the safety of imported food, it is unacceptable that the rule was approved with an overly broad definition for which foods are 'processed.' This definition 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. It is inexcusable to exempt so much food from this basic labeling requirement just because one ingredient has been added or because something has been roasted or cooked.
"The Bush Administration is using a trade challenge by Canada and Mexico as an excuse for weakening a domestic labeling program that is hugely popular with U.S. consumers and producers. U.S. consumers' access to vital information about their food should not be subject to the whims of our trading partners. Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from and USDA should be standing up for those rights, not caving into pressure from our trading partners.
"According to a November 2008 poll, 95 percent of consumers believe that processed or packaged food should be labeled by their country of origin. USDA should have listened to the majority of American consumers and dramatically limited the use of the exemption for processed foods so that the consumers and U.S. farmers receive the most possible benefit from country-of-origin labeling. Now it is time for Congress and President-elect Obama to get to work to undo the damage done by this last-minute rule from the Bush administration and close the loopholes that leave too much food out of labeling requirements."