FMI Labels COOL Uncool; Pushes Industry-Led Model to Congress

WASHINGTON -- Country of origin labeling (COOL) for seafood is failing to deliver the benefits -- including increased sales of U.S. seafood -- promised by the law that made it mandatory, contended the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) in comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The trade group further said the supermarket industry's cost to comply with the law is up to 10 times higher than what the USDA estimated when it issued the interim final rule for labeling seafood.

While FMI issued its comments to the USDA earlier this week in response to the agency's request for cost and benefit information on the interim final COOL rules, a coalition of small farm groups spearheaded by the National Farmers Union was pushing in the other direction, pressing Congress to enact legislation to move up the deadline to September 2007 from September 2008.

That move to advance the law for produce, meat, and peanuts sooner than September 2008 is misguided and unwise, FMI spokesman Bill Greer told Progressive Grocer, particularly in light of the two-plus years of experience the industry has had with labeling seafood. "We've felt all along that it's a terrible law that has long needed to be repealed and replaced," said Greer.

John Motley, FMI's s.v.p. of government and public affairs, noted that in addition to the lack of any demonstrable benefits generated from seafood COOL, "when the labeling first took place, sales actually dropped, which confirms what we've said from the beginning" -- that the mandate's significant costs would offer "little to no marketing value."

Motley said FMI is hopeful that congressional lawmakers would heed the supermarket industry's position, which calls for replacing the law with an effective, flexible, industry-led labeling model that would communicate the same information in ways consumers would find useful, without driving costs sky-high, with identifiers such as Wild Alaskan Salmon, Georgia Peaches, or Vidalia Onions.

"Because of limited label space and limited time for busy consumers to make their decisions, when government continually mandates requirements for signs and labels that generate large fines for noncompliance, we have the labeling equivalent of Gresham's Law: Bad information drives out the good," FMI president and c.e.o. Tim Hammonds said in a statement.
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