The debate has quieted down about the need for mandatory country-of-origin labeling. However, the House Ag Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., introduced legislation Wednesday to implement a "market-driven and more producer-friendly" country-of-origin labeling program.
The Meat Promotion Act (H.R. 2068) is a bipartisan bill and is widely supported by nearly 60 food and ag groups as a means for finally moving country-of-origin labeling forward. It would replace the mandatory country-of-origin labeling program for meat, which is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 30, 2006.
Supporters, such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, say the legislation provides a more "cost-effective" program that puts the marketplace in charge. If there is demand demonstrated for a product, more products labeled with country-of-origin will become available, a statement from NCBA says.
In addition, NCBA says that the program does not discriminate against any groups in the food production, retail or food service sectors. The bill would implement a labeling program very similar to the many voluntary labeling programs that currently exist. NCBA says hundreds of programs that label products by region, state and U.S. brand have already proven their value for producers and consumers alike.
"This voluntary, market-based program would appeal to consumers, successfully increase market visibility for U.S. food products and let farmers produce food instead of paperwork," says American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.
"Many segments of the food industry have wanted country-of-origin labeling for years," says NCBA President and Texas cattle producer Jim McAdams. "But there continues to be heated debate over how to actually implement such a program so that it works. After all this time, weâ€™re no closer to promoting U.S. products than we were a decade ago. Weâ€™re tired of debating and weâ€™re tired of waiting."
The Agriculture Department has estimated the costs of the current mandatory country-of-origin label program could be as much as $4 billion in the first year alone, with several hundred million dollars a year in recurring costs. Stallman said that USDA also has estimated that more than 60 percent of these costs would be borne directly by the U.S. meat and livestock industry.
"Mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat would place significant new costs on beef, hog and sheep producers, with the largest impact falling on independent producers," Stallman says. "This is clearly a marketing issue, not a food safety issue, and by approving a voluntary program, Congress would be placing control in the hands of consumers at the marketplace."
According to Stallman, by passing the Meat Promotion Act, Congress can take a big step "toward the worthy goal of promoting American-grown food products." He adds that this market-based bill "lays some solid groundwork that moves the worthy concept of voluntary country-of-origin labeling forward."
The National Pork Producers Council also announced its support for the act along with 15 state pork associations.