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Test EVERY Cow in the Food Chain

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Farm Groups Worried About COOL Laws

"Country of Origin Laws" Provide Loop-hole for Meat-packers

By MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Farm groups are protesting the Agriculture Department's use of a new food labeling law, saying it has loopholes that could confuse consumers about where their meat comes from.

National Farmers Union President Tom Buis and other farm groups said Wednesday the department has written the law - which passed with widespread support in the federal farm bill earlier this year - in a way that will allow meatpackers to avoid labeling packages of meat as an exclusively U.S. products.

The law is scheduled to take effect at the end of the month.

At issue are the new country of origin labels on fresh meats, an issue long debated by Congress.

The labels are favored by High Plains ranchers who own small operations and compete with Canadian beef. The leading opponents have been grocery stores and large meatpacking companies - many of whom mix U.S. and Mexican beef - and other businesses involved in getting products to supermarkets.

Those groups have said the tracking and the paperwork needed to comply with the law is would be too burdensome and would lead to higher prices. They agreed to a compromise that ended up in this year's farm law after days of negotiations.

The compromise laid out different types of labels, including one that would tag meat from animals that are born, raised and slaughtered in the United States as products of this country. Another label would spell out multiple countries of origin, such as "Product of U.S., Mexico and Canada."

Farm groups say the new law as written by the Agriculture Department would allow meatpackers to label all beef and pork with multiple countries of origin - even meat that was born, raised and slaughtered in the United States. That could make it easier and cheaper for the meatpackers but eliminate the competitive advantage for ranchers who raise the U.S. meat.

"USDA has created a loophole big enough to drive a truck through, violating the spirit, letter and intent of the law and deceiving consumers who have consistently shown support for buying U.S. products," Buis said. "This is about truth in labeling."
Billy Cox, a spokesman for the Agriculture Department's Agricultural Marketing Service, said the law is still under discussion.

"We do take it seriously," he said of the farm groups' complaints.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the department "seems to be taking liberty with their interpretation" of the law passed by Congress.

"That goes against the spirit of the law and the negotiated settlement between producer and packing industry representatives," Harkin said.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., has written Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer to ask him to fix the problem.

Schafer, a former North Dakota governor, also has some pressure from his home state, where the labeling law is popular.
"Surely Secretary Schafer knows farmers, ranchers, and consumers all have worked hard to secure (country of origin labeling) as a way to clearly identify food products, whether those products are from overseas sources, specifically U.S. in origin, or a blend," said North Dakota Farmers Union President Robert Carlson. "To allow meat packers to exploit this loophole means USDA is catering to the packers, rather than following the intent of Congress, consumers, farmers and ranchers."

AP Article;

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