The House is one step closer to killing a mandatory country-of-origin labeling program and replacing it with a more industry-driven voluntary program.
The Food Promotion Act of 2004 (H.R. 4576), introduced June 15 by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Ranking Minority Member Charles Stenholm. D-Texas, has the backing of 347 food and agriculture groups including cattle ranchers, pork producers, seafood producers and growers and shippers of fruits and vegetables.
Supporters of the voluntary system say the new legislation provides a cost-effective and more market-driven approach to country-of-origin labeling. In addition, they report that this approach is less burdensome to producers.
On the other side of the spectrum is the majority of the Senate, the National Farmers Union, and 170 agriculture producer and consumer groups in support of a mandatory program that was written in the 2002 Farm Bill to go into effect by September of this year.
National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson compares the voluntary labeling program to a voluntary speed limit. "It's just not realistic. There is no reason to believe that the companies that profit from importing cheaper food products from other countries would voluntarily label these products, especially when numerous surveys show consumers prefer to buy U.S.-origin foods."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle is disappointed with the introduction of the bill in the House since there already is a voluntary program in place. "I doubt this bill will be considered by the full House of Representatives, and even if it were, I am not sure that it would pass. COOL votes in the House have been close in the past," he says. "The proposal passed by the House Agriculture Committee [Thursday] would be dead on arrival if it moved to the Senate."