FMI, GMA Applaud Voluntary COOL Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Trade association leaders praised legislation 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.

The Food Promotion Act of 2005 (S. 1300), which would replace the current mandatory COOL regime for the aforementioned commodities, directs the United States' Secretary of Agriculture to develop voluntary country of origin labeling programs for produce, beef, veal, lamb, pork and fish. Mandatory COOL is currently required for seafood and is scheduled to go into full effect Sept. 30, 2006, for the other covered commodities.

"This legislation will give U.S. consumers and producers a country of origin labeling program that works, is cost-effective and builds on successful programs already in place," said Tim Hammonds, president and c.e.o. of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). "It will free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of the mandatory labeling law."

The Grocery Manufacturers Association also welcomed the bill's introduction. Patrick Lehman, GMA's director of federal affairs, suggested that it would "create a workable country-of-origin labeling program, empowering farmers, ranchers, food manufacturers and retailers to promote American products without incurring the exorbitant costs associated with the current mandatory scheme."

The voluntary law would cut costs by giving the Agriculture Department the authority to recognize U.S. state, regional and brand labeling programs. In this manner, FMI's Hammonds said the legislation builds on proven programs that succeed because they are voluntary, flexible and clearly benefit consumers, producers and retailers.

The record-keeping provisions of the bill do not include the extensive third-party audits and other paperwork requirements in the mandatory law, which Hammonds said are redundant and unnecessary in light of the requirements of current laws and enforcement measures under state and federal truth-in-labeling statutes.

"This legislation is endorsed by 350 organizations representing every industry segment," Hammonds said. "The mandatory approach to labeling will only increase costs for consumers and the very producers it is supposed to help. Voluntary country of origin labeling will succeed where the mandatory law cannot."

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