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040922 Country-of-Origin Labeling Delayed for Beef

October 1, 2004

Grand Island, NB - "People are going to make up their own minds based on whatever is important to them. It's the issues that need focused on, NOT a candidates religion. ..." - Posted by Pavlov's Dog, in our News Forum Topic: Has the GOP finally gone too far?

Now that consumers will eventually have the right to know the country of origin of their fish and seafood products, Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., is more than a little dismayed that consumers don't have the same right to know where their beef comes from.

The fact that the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law for beef didn't take effect Thursday as originally planned when it was passed as part of the 2002 farm bill represents a broken promise by lawmakers to Nebraska cattle producers, Osborne said.

"A promise was made and it has been filibustered, stonewalled or delayed," he said. "I pointed it out in the ag committee that we had a deal here and I kind of hate to see people not following through in what they originally committed to."

Mandatory country-of-origin labeling for fish and seafood was supposed to officially go into effect Thursday, but it also is now delayed as the U.S. Department of Agriculture just issued regulations Thursday. The interim final rule on mandatory labeling for seafood is to become effective six months after publication in the Federal Register, which will take place on Oct. 5, according to the Food Marketing Institute, which supports a voluntary labeling law.

But Wild American Shrimp Inc. officials said this week they support a mandatory approach because consumers "...will finally have the right to know the origins of the seafood they purchase in supermarkets."

They support a mandatory COOL for seafood and shellfish because as much as 85% of the shrimp Americans eat is an imported product sold at premium prices and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had only the resources to test slightly more than 1% of the imported shrimp that ends up on our dinner plates for contaminants, including residues of the illegal antibiotics often necessary for foreign shrimp- pond production.

That's the same reason that many U.S. cattle producers supported a mandatory COOL program for beef, said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

Hansen said Nebraska cattle producers are losing millions of dollars because of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), incident last year in the United States that led to more than 40 countries banning U.S. beef exports. He said that alone points to the need of a mandatory country-of-origin labeling law for all meats, fish, vegetable and fruit products.

The dairy cow that tested positive for BSE, or mad cow disease, in Washington state originated from Canada, where another dairy cow tested positive for BSE last year.

"We have consumers groups saying that they want mandatory country-of-origin labeling and we have a law passed by Congress, but yet when the packers talk, it seems that the Bush administration and especially the House of Representatives leadership not only listen but do as they are told by the packers," Hansen said. "Big business-friendly agendas prevail over due process, passed laws or certainly the interest of average family farm producers."

When the mandatory COOL was originally passed as part of the 2002 farm bill, beef was scheduled to be part of the law.

But earlier this year, during last-minute negotiations between Senate and House appropriators, they delayed implementation of mandatory labeling for beef until Sept. 30, 2006.

Last month, the Senate Appropriations Committee reached a tie vote of 14-14 on a proposed amendment to move the mandatory COOL program implementation date to Jan. 1, 2005, instead of Sept. 30, 2006.

A strong supporter of the mandatory COOL, Osborne was one of 16 members of the House Agriculture Committee earlier this year to vote against legislation designed to kill mandatory country-of- origin labeling legislation and make it voluntary.

Mandatory labeling has strong support in Nebraska from such ag organizations as Nebraska Farmers Union, Nebraska Farm Bureau and Nebraska Cattlemen.

Hansen also called Congress' failure to implement mandatory country-of-origin labeling a "promise broken."

"The normal representative democratic process and the American people are the losers because of this," Hansen said.

He said by successfully delaying implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling, opponents of the law will have time to kill the legislation by making it a voluntary program.

"Their goal is to do everything and anything to prevent it from being implemented as promised," Hansen said. "We don't have voluntary traffic laws or a voluntary tax system. The packers make too much money by being able to blend lower grade, cheaper imported product in with our higher quality U.S. meat products and then sell it as all USDA inspected. It's all about money."


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