Peterson Warns Agribusiness On Country Of Origin Labeling
House Agriculture Chairman Peterson says he is determined that mandatory country of origin labeling for red meat will go into effect, but he does not support efforts to move up the date a year from the planned implementation on Sept. 30, 2008. The 2002 farm bill called for mandatory labeling for red meat, seafood, peanuts, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Congress, however, has used appropriations bills to delay the implementation for all but seafood until Sept. 30, 2008.
Last week, the National Farmers Union and 215 other farm groups that support mandatory labeling called for the implementation date to be moved up. But Peterson told the National Farmers Union convention in Orlando last week that he considers USDA's implementing regulations unworkable and wants the agency to rewrite them. Peterson also said he warned the American Meat Institute, which represents big packers; Tyson Foods, the Arkansas-based meat company: and the Food Marketing Institute, which represents grocery stores, that mandatory labeling "will happen no later than September of 2008." If agribusiness tries to repeal mandatory labeling, Peterson said Thursday, supporters will push for a floor vote and it will pass "by 300 votes."
Peterson also told the Farmers Union he believed mandatory labeling will lead to a system of mandatory animal identification for meat animals so diseases can be traced quickly. The Bush administration proposed mandatory animal identification to reassure foreign customers after the discovery of mad cow disease in 2003, but ranchers and farmers reacted so negatively that Agriculture Secretary Johanns has said the administration now favors a voluntary system. Peterson noted that other developed countries have mandatory animal identification. "In the end these [two systems] are going to get married," he said.
Meanwhile, the Food Marketing Institute said last week that mandatory country of origin labeling for seafood is failing to deliver the benefits promised by the law because it has not increased sales of U.S. seafood and cost more to implement than USDA had estimated. FMI also contended that -- based on case studies of its members -- the cost in the first year per store has been $9,000 to $16,000, compared to the $1,530 that USDA had estimated. The cost for suppliers was $200,000 to $250,000 compared with the $1,890 USDA estimated, the group said. FMI suggested the rules be replaced with an industry-led marketing program. Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, said Alaska salmon had been eligible for trade adjustment assistance because of import competition. But country-of-origin labeling for seafood had been so effective that prices of fresh salmon covered by the labeling law have gone up so much that those fishermen are no longer eligible for payments, while the price of species that go into canned salmon is so low those fishermen still qualify for payments. Vinsel also said the "wild caught" and "farm-raised" labels have been vital in informing consumers. A spokeswoman for the Southern Shrimp Alliance said it supports mandatory labeling and that labeling works "hand-in-hand" with marketing programs.
-- by Jerry Hagstrom