Consumers Want Country of Origin Labeling

December 5, 2003
Contact: Chris Waldrop
202 797 8551

"The House and Senate appropriators' two-year delay for implementing country-of-origin labeling (COOL) is a travesty. Consumers have a basic right to know where their food comes from and COOL is a reasonable and useful method of providing that information.

"The administration, together with some industry groups, claim the public doesn't want COOL, but in fact, country of origin labeling has broad backing among consumers. Numerous polls have shown overwhelming support for labeling as well as the willingness to pay extra for such information. A 2002 survey by researchers at Colorado State University and the University of Nebraska clearly showed a willingness on the part of the consumer to pay more for beef labeled USA 'born and raised.'

"As a matter of choice, many consumers may wish to purchase produce grown and processed in the United States or meat from animals born, raised and processed here. Consumers may also wish to seek out or avoid food from a country based on reports of sanitary conditions in that country or in reaction to specific incidents of disease associated with certain foods. A case in point is the outbreak of Hepatitis A last month, which was blamed on green onions from Mexico. Without country of origin labeling, consumers cannot distinguish Mexican green onions from domestic green onions in the supermarket.

"In a recent brochure titled, 'Food Safety and Food Security: What Consumers Need to Know,' the USDA claims that their commitment to protect America's supply of meat, poultry and eggs from contamination has never been higher. Wouldn't country of origin labeling be an effective tool in helping the USDA to continue to meet this important goal?

"Congressional leaders should refuse to allow closed-door negotiations to supersede the desires of consumers. When COOL entered the appropriations committee, the House had refused to mandate COOL for meat products and the Senate had passed a resolution, urging that COOL be implemented as is. Now, in a closed meeting, the committee has decided that COOL should be delayed for two years for all products except fish. How is this a compromise? Private interests have once again trumped consumer concerns."

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Chris Waldrop is the Health and Safety Associate at Consumer Federation of America, a non-profit association of over 300 pro-consumer groups.