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COOL Bills Are Hot Topic on the Hill

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Following closely on the heels of a bill introduced last week by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) to replace the mandatory country of origin labeling law with a voluntary program for produce, meat, seafood and peanuts, a bi-partisan bill was introduced this week also calling for a voluntary COOL program.

Introduced by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and 13 other senators from both parties, the latest bill is a companion to a measure introduced in the House of Representatives recently by Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Agriculture Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Vir.), Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.), and more than 40 of their House colleagues.

"Momentum is building on both sides of the Hill, among Republicans and Democrats alike for a voluntary, workable COOL bill that will maximize consumer choice and serve as a market-driven option for consumers," said American Meat Institute president and c.e.o., J. Patrick Boyle.

Two weeks ago, the House overwhelmingly supported a measure authored by House Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) to delay COOL for meat for one year, allowing time for Congress to act before the mandatory law takes effect. The final house vote on the delay was 240-187, and was supported by more than 60 agriculture groups.

"The up swell of grassroots support that led to passage of the delay of COOL in the House demonstrates the strong and rapidly expanding public support for a voluntary program," Boyle added, noting that if COOL is something consumers value, "then the voluntary program will allow them to demand it in the marketplace and pay the premium for the new labeling information."

However, not all lawmakers are on board with a voluntary program, including South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, who is sponsoring a bill that sets January 30 as the date to start requiring grocery store labels that identify where meat comes from.

"This bill would speed things up to ensure that the USDA remains on track and stops dragging their feet," said Johnson, pointing out two delays that have postponed the original Sept. 2004 start date.

Other lawmakers supporting Johnson are Sen. John Thune, (R-S.D.), Sen. Byron Dorgan of (D-N.D.) and Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Craig Thomas and Mike Enzi, both Wyoming Republicans.
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