Consumers Want COOL: Consumer Reports Poll

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Consumers Want COOL: Consumer Reports Poll

WASHINGTON -- A whopping 92 percent of U.S. consumers say they want to know where their food comes from, according to a survey released by Consumer Reports magazine this week said.
According to the consumer publication, food scares about such products as peanut butter and spinach have spurred Americans to wish to discover origins of what they eat.

"I was definitely shocked at how high these numbers were," the study's co-author Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy analyst at Consumers Union, the nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Reports, told Reuters. "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."

The survey was conducted with via 1,004 telephone interviews between June 7 and June 10. Also last month, USDA said it would extend public comment to its "country-of-origin" labeling measure until August 20.

The twice-delayed start date for the meat-labeling requirement enacted by Congress in 2002 is now scheduled for Sept. 30, 2008.

Despite strong consumer support, industry figures are sounding a cautious note.

According to American Meat Institute president J. Patrick Boyle, the poll "underscores the value of the existing mandatory country of origin labeling rules for imported meat and poultry enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

Continued Boyle: "Despite the fact that these labels have existed for years, language in the 2002 Farm Bill requires labels on meat sold at retail to declare where an animal was born, where it was raised, and where it was slaughtered. This law has been called mandatory country-of-origin labeling, or COOL. That is a misnomer. These labels should be called KOIL, for Keep Out Import Labels, because that is their purpose."

Boyle notes that the law would violate the United States' obligations under the NAFTA and WTO treaties, as shown by complaints filed last week by New Zealand, Canada, and Mexico in Geneva. "By creating an onerous rule that applies to meat (and not poultry) and to food sold at retail (not foodservice), the meat industry will be forced to attempt to sort livestock and raw materials in a costly and logistically complex way or face huge monetary penalties," he said.

Such an outcome "only benefits protectionist livestock producers who seek to limit competition, disadvantage products from other countries, drive up livestock prices, and, in turn, drive up the price of meat for consumers," observed Boyle.

Another concern, added Boyle, was that shoppers might mistake the labels for a food safety program. "While some consumers may place high value on the labels we apply today that state the country of origin, the labels themselves do not offer a food safety benefit."