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FMI Blasts Proposal for Retail COOL 'User Fees'

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Food Marketing Institute called a USDA plan to have food retailers pay for part of the costs of country-of-origin labeling "outrageous," and said yesterday it is urging lawmakers to turn back the spurn the agency's proposal as a "backdoor method to pay for government regulation."

The proposal, put forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "violates the government's own definition of 'user fees,' which are supposed to provide the user a clear benefit," said John J. Motley, III FMI s.v.p./government and public affairs. The proposal would cost the industry $9.6 million in 2009, Motley said.

Congress originally approved mandatory country-of-origin labeling in 2002 for beef, lamb, pork, fish, perishable agricultural commodities, and peanuts. That mandatory measure was delayed for all covered commodities until September 30, 2008, with the exception of wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, for which country of origin labels have been required since September 2006.

Now, President Bush's proposed 2009 budget calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to collect fees of $259 from each of about 37,000 retailers, to pay for compliance reviews for mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat and other food products. The fees apparently would apply to both the mandatory labeling program that's already approved, and a revised program in the yet-to-be-completed 2007 Farm Bill.

Said Motley: "The only good news is that this idea is opposed by just about everyone affected by COOL, including produce growers, meat producers and even the law's strongest proponents: the National Farmers Union and R-CALF."

The FMI official also called the proposed amendment abusive and without merit for consideration by Congress. "FMI is working vigorously with Congress to ensure it is not attached to the Farm Bill, the government's fiscal year 2009 budget or any other legislation," Motley said.

Some trade groups reportedly view the controversial retailer-funded user fee proposal as a USDA gambit to derail the measure. "It's just USDA's way of trying to kill this thing again," Margaret Nachtigall, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, was quoted as saying in press reports.
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