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Retailers, Wholesalers Urge Congress to Enact Voluntary COOL Law

WASHINGTON - Food retailers and wholesalers across the United States are requesting that Congress replace what they call a costly and unworkable mandatory country-of-origin labeling law with a voluntary program proposed in bipartisan legislation introduced today by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Ranking Member Charles Stenholm, D-Texas.

"This legislation will give U.S. consumers and producers a country-of-origin labeling program that works, that is cost-effective, and that retailers can begin implementing immediately," said Tim Hammonds, president and c.e.c. of the Food Marketing Institute. "It will free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of the mandatory labeling law."
"The measure is a practical, commonsense solution to a law that would hurt all segments of the food industry -- producers, processors, wholesalers, and retail grocers -- especially the industry's smaller companies," said Thomas K. Zaucha, president and c.e.o. of the National Grocers Association.

The bill, known the Food Promotion Act of 2004, directs the U.S. secretary of agriculture to develop voluntary country-of-origin labeling programs for produce, beef, veal, lamb, pork, and fish. Like the mandatory labeling law, the goals are to increase sales of U.S. products and inform consumers where these foods come from.

Proponents say the voluntary law would cut costs by giving the secretary of agriculture the authority to recognize U.S. state, regional and brand-labeling programs. In this manner, Hammonds and Zaucha point out, the legislation builds on proven programs that succeed because they are voluntary, flexible, and clearly benefit consumers, producers, and retailers.

The record-keeping provisions don't include the extensive third-party audits, two-year paper trails, and other paperwork requirements in the mandatory law. These measures are redundant and unneeded, according to Hammonds and Zaucha, given the requirements of current laws and enforcement measures under state and federal truth-in-labeling statutes.

"Congress needs to move quickly to enact this legislation," said Zaucha. "Mandatory seafood labeling takes effect this Sept. 30, while the mandate is delayed two years for the other products. This means that seafood will be subject to the mandatory law's prohibitive implementation costs, which could significantly reduce sales."

"To skeptics of a voluntary program," Hammonds said, "I would emphasize that today there is industrywide support for voluntary country-of-origin labeling. This new legislation is endorsed by well over 300 organizations representing every industry segment. The mandatory approach to labeling will only increase costs for consumers and reduce sales for the very producers it is supposed to help. Voluntary country-of-origin labeling will succeed where the mandatory law cannot."
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