Association Leaders: NFU Labeling Poll Hides Regulatory Burden

WASHINGTON - On the heels of last Friday's announcement that the industry's major trade associations agreed to implement a voluntary country-of-origin program, food industry leaders are decrying results of a poll released yesterday and sponsored by the National Farmers Union (NFU), a vocal advocate of COOL.

Today the U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote on legislation that would delay implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat and produce.

In announcing the results of the poll, which shows that U.S. consumers overwhelmingly want food at stores to be labeled with the country of origin, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said: "This poll should send a strong message to the Bush administration and those in Congress who continue to oppose the country-of-origin labeling law. By denying consumers this very basic piece of information, opponents of the labeling law are choosing a narrow special interest over the public interest."

The poll, which sampled about 900 people Jan. 13-Jan. 14, with an error margin of 3 percent, found that 85 percent said they would be more inclined to buy food produced in the United States and that 81 percent said they were willing to pay slightly higher prices for U.S.-grown food.

"Consumers were asked the wrong questions in a National Farmers Union poll on country-of-origin labeling," said Tim Hammonds, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

Hammonds said pollsters should have asked if consumers were aware that "the current labeling program that some in government seem to favor comes with a $3.9 billion price tag for the first year alone? Falls most heavily on small farmers, ranchers, growers, and retailers? Doesn't cover half the food that American consumers eat? Specifically prohibits the USDA from developing an animal-ID traceback program? Encourages our trading partners to impose their own trade barriers limiting our markets?"

The key question, Hammonds continued, is not whether consumers want country-of-origin labeling, but how best to do it. "Producers, retailers, and wholesalers stand ready to implement a program that's not loaded with a huge government bureaucracy that drives costs into the billions. Congress should give us the opportunity to develop a real solution before they decide to just throw money at it."

Close to 100 farmers, ranchers, and consumers from across the country will visit Senate offices leading up to today's 3:30 p.m. vote on the omnibus appropriations bill.
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