WASHINGTON - U.S. consumers overwhelmingly support stricter food labeling laws, with 92 percent of Americans wanting to know which country produced the food they are buying, a consumer magazine said on Tuesday.
"I was definitely shocked at how high these numbers were," said the study's coauthor Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy analyst at Consumers Union, the nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Reports magazine.
"It's much like a nutrition label or an ingredient label in that it needs to be part of the general information coming in about imported foods," she added.
The poll was conducted with 1,004 telephone interviews between June 7 and June 10.
Last month, USDA said it would reopen public comment to its so-called "country-of-origin" labeling measure until August 20.
Congress enacted the meat-labeling requirement as part of a 2002 law but has twice delayed the start date, now set for September 30, 2008.
Meatpackers and grocers as well as some farm groups say the labeling law will create an expensive record-keeping headache to track each piece of meat from the slaughter plant to grocery shelf. Other farm groups side with consumer groups in saying shoppers deserve to know if meat is imported or U.S.-grown.
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards released on Tuesday a package of safety proposals for imported foods, including making country-of-origin labeling mandatory.
"It's time to stop the delays and stop giving in to big agribusiness and food importers," said Edwards.
In recent months, the United States has uncovered safety problems with imports of Chinese seafood, toothpaste and melamine-contaminated wheat gluten that was added into U.S. feed for pets, pigs, chickens and fish.
"It is increased oversight and serious inspections (that) will move us in the right direction," said Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
The Consumer Reports study found 86 percent of those surveyed expect the "natural" label to mean that processed foods do not contain artificial ingredients. Still, the group said many manufacturers call their products natural foods even though they contain artificial sugars and oils.
The results also showed that 91 percent of consumers said "organic" fish should be produced without environmental pollution and be low in contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. There currently are no government guidelines in place for organic seafood.
Consumers Union, the Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch plan to file a complaint and petition on Wednesday with the U.S. Agriculture Department and Federal Trade Commission to prevent manufacturers from labeling seafood as organic until a government definition is established.
Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.