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Bill Sets Mandatory Delay for COOL of Meat, Produce, Peanuts

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Senate yesterday sent a $100 billion food and farm spending bill to President Bush that includes a two-year delay on mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) for meat, produce and peanuts.

The delay resulted from the Senate's 81-18 vote to approve the fiscal year 2006 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which includes a provision delaying to Sept. 30, 2008 mandatory COOL, The House approved the bill 318-63 last week.

The Senate passage of the appropriations bill clears it for the final Congressional hurdle, which then gets sent to the President for his signature. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), along with House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Vir.) and Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) led efforts in opposition to mandatory COOL and secured the delay.

The labeling measure was originally included as part of the 2002 Farm Bill with an implementation date of September 30, 2004.

The measure also unravels a court ruling on whether products labeled "USDA Organic" can contain small amounts of non-organic substances. Earlier this year, an appeals court ruled that non-organic substances such as vitamins or baking powder can't be in food bearing the round, green seal.

In a statement, the Food Marketing Institute said yesterday's Senate vote underscores "the growing recognition in Congress that the mandatory country of origin labeling law is seriously flawed and needs to be replaced with a cost-effective program that works for consumers and U.S. producers."

"The supermarket industry continues to push for a voluntary labeling program that will not increase the cost of food and can be implemented as soon as possible," FMI continued. "This program builds on the success of hundreds of initiatives that label the origin of foods by state or recognizable U.S. brands -- from Washington apples to Florida oranges to Black Angus beef. We do not need to wait for an act of Congress to label the origin of products as well. Producers can label where their products come from right now. Retailers will gladly display those labels and use them to promote U.S. foods, as the industry has been doing for years."

In a statement on its Web site, the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association said the vote "does not 'fix' the issues with mandatory country of origin labeling, and PMA will continue to work toward a cost-effective, market-driven solution to origin labeling that the entire industry can support."

At its annual Fresh Summit convention that begins this weekend in Atlanta, PMA will offer a country of origin workshop.
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