090312 Country of Origin Labeling Final March 16

March 9, 2009

More and more labels are appearing in U.S. grocery stores telling consumers where their food was raised and produced. The final federal country of origin labeling law will take effect March 16.

The practice, also known as COOL, has been debated since 2002, and the 2008 Farm Bill made it a requirement for muscle cuts of beef and ground beef, including veal; lamb; chicken; goat; and pork, as well as fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, macadamia nuts, pecans, ginseng and peanuts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented the COOL program for fish and shellfish in 2004.

Food service establishments such as restaurants, cafeterias and bars are exempt from the labeling requirements. Ingredients in processed food items are also exempt.

"Country of origin labeling is a big step forward for Virginia farmers and consumers, because it will identify the source of their food supply," said Wayne F. Pryor, president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. "It's a lot of extra work for some of our producers, like our cattlemen, to adapt records to the federal standard. But we believe it will benefit our industry in the end."

As late as this winter there was still some question as to when and whether COOL would be implemented. The Obama administration placed it under review, and new U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Feb. 20 that the best way to determine its effectiveness would be to move forward with implementation.

COOL regulations affect only retail establishments that purchase more than $230,000 in perishable agriculture commodities in a given year, so participants in farmers' markets and on-farm sales are exempt.