by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: COOL(Country of Origin Labeling)

Aug 6 2014

Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) for meat: Yes!

You might think that knowing where meat comes from would be useful to know, but big chunks of the meat industry think otherwise.  They have been fighting Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) for more than a decade, and the fight isn’t over yet.

In the latest skirmish, the US Court of Appeals for DC has decided that the USDA can implement its 2013 rules requiring country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat and poultry products, something it has been trying to do for a long time.

COOL laws mandate that meat products be labeled to tell where the food animals were born, raised and slaughtered, like “”born in Mexico, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.”

The judges said COOL does not violate the First Amendment—the principal argument used by meat industry groups to challenge the labeling law.

The American Meat Institute (AMI) says the ruling is disappointing.

Let’s leave aside the question of the meat industry’s invocation of First Amendment challenges to achieve what it can’t get any other way.  Fortunately, this ploy did not work this time.

But the easiest way to understand what this absurd business is about is to take the events chronologically.

This history, to say the least, is “convoluted.”

I went back to see what I had written about COOL in my 2006 book, What to Eat.

In 2002, Congress passed a law requiring Country of Origin Labeling (the apt acronym is COOL) that was to take effect in 2004.  Later, under pressure from food industries, Congress postponed the deadline until 2005 for fish, but until 2006 and, later, 2008 for other foods…In America, food industry opposition to COOL is just about universal.   The industry complains that tracking the origin of foods is difficult, but also would prefer that you not know how far food has traveled before it gets to you.   The Grocery Manufacturers of America, an especially vigilant trade advocacy group, called the 2002 bill “a nasty, snarly beast of a bill,” but even stronger opposition came from the meat industry.   Its lobbyists argued that COOL would be “extraordinarily costly with no discernible benefit,” but their real objection was that meat producers would have to track where animals and products come from—another sensible idea that they have long resisted…the industry wants COOL to be voluntary–so they can voluntarily decline to put COOL labels on their products.

In 2009, Canada and Mexico challenged COOL at the World Trade Organization (WTO), arguing that COOL was a trade barrier in disguise that would hurt the meat industry on both sides of the border.  The WTO issued a ruling in 2011 so ambiguous that both Canada and the U.S. said it favored their positions.

Canada and Mexico asked the WTO for another review.  The WTO has apparently rendered its decision but has not announced it publicly.  Politico Pro speculates that “the ruling does not bode well for USDA.”

Why COOL is a good thing is evident from  a case in Canada.   Officials of an Ontario greenhouse face criminal fraud charges for allegedly selling fresh vegetables from Mexico to Canadian retailers and representing them as Canadian produce.

I like knowing where my food comes from, don’t you?  And these days, meat especially.

 

Apr 24 2009

Pesticides in Chilean farmed salmon?

Among the many publications that flood my snail mailbox is the trade magazine, Pacific Fishing. I’m not sure why it gets sent to me but I do look at it since it covers a world I know little about.   The May issue has several articles about banned pesticides in Chilean farmed salmon.  I had completely missed this story, even though the New York Times discussed the problem on February 5.  That was the day the Pew Environmental Group revealed the results of its FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the FDA.  The otherwise undisclosed documents say farmed fish from Chile contains residues of pesticides banned by the FDA since 2007.

But Chile is not alone in using banned pesticides.  British Columbia salmon farmers use SLICE, a pesticide that kills sea lice.  Because such pesticides are toxic, it is not surprising that they also seem to be killing local prawns and other invertebrates along the Canadian West Coast.

A Pacific Fishing reporter, Don McManman, went to great pains to find out what the FDA was doing about all this.  His interview makes entertaining reading.  The FDA’s final answer?  Looking into it, apparently.

I’m wondering why the Pew Group had to file a FOIA request to get information that the FDA should be releasing to the public.  The lack of disclosure makes it appear that the FDA cares more about protecting the salmon farming industry than consumers, especially now that the public has the right to choose.  Seafood has Country-of-Origin labeling (COOL).  With COOL , you can see whether farmed salmon comes from Chile or British Columbia and decide for yourself whether you want to eat fish raised on pellets containing banned pesticides.

Want to check out the documents?  Go to the Pacific Fishing website, then Resources. Scroll down and look for “Insecticides–It’s What’s for Dinner,” “Chile Salmon Report,” and “Chilean Contamination History.”

Mar 16 2009

COOL takes effect today, supposedly

The long awaited and much postponed Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) finally takes effect today, despite massive efforts by the beef industry to make it go away.  It is interesting to see what meat producer groups object to:  too expensive, too difficult, it’s really just another trade barrier, and – my favorite – consumers don’t care where their meat comes from.  As of today, COOL is law.  Will anyone pay attention?  Or will the law be as widely ignored by meat sellers as it is for fish sellers?  But don’t you care where your food is produced?  I do.

Jan 23 2009

COOL? Will we ever have it?

One of the first things President Obama did on his first day in office was to freeze last-minute regulations squeezed in by the Bush administration, among them Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).

On January 15, cutting it close, the USDA  issued final rules for COOL for meat, poultry, and fish, as well as for plant crops: fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables as well as, oddly, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts. The rules were supposed to take effect March 16. They excluded foods that were cooked, cured, or smoked, or mixed with other food ingredients (examples: chocolate, breading and tomato sauce). These were the same as previous versions and full of loopholes (see previous posts on the topic). I thought the lame-duck rules were better than nothing, but now it seems we are starting over.

Big question: will the Obama administration make the rules better or worse?  Fingers crossed.

Nov 13 2008

Tracking Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL)

If you want to understand what’s going on with Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), try USDA’s exceedingly useful COOL website.  If you are really serious about tracking COOL, you can subscribe to a listserv for updates.

Sep 30 2008

Country-of-origin labels at long last (sort of)

While the U.S. economy is falling into the tank, it helps to think of cheerier topics.  This very day, after years of delay, mandatory country-of-origin labeling (M-COOL) supposedly goes into effect.  The “supposedly” is because M-COOL still faces so much opposition. If the experience with fish COOL is any indication, we will see lots of passive ignoring of the rules.

The legislation requires grocery stores to say where a motley collection of foods – beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, macadamia nuts, pecans, peanuts, and ginseng – were raised or grown. This is great but you can drive a truck through the loopholes.  Excluded are food service, processed foods, Internet sales, and butcher shop sales.  And then there’s the 6-month grace period.  Here again is Consumer Reports’ guide to the exceptions.

If you don’t see COOL on products that are supposed to have such labels, ask why they aren’t there.  Tell the store managers you want to know where your food comes from and remind them that they are required by law to tell you.


Sep 19 2008

COOL is coming, sort of

At long last, Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) goes into effect September 30.  Way back in 2002, Congress got the great idea to pass this legislation but there was so much opposition to it from the food industry that it got postponed endlessly – except for fish.   You might think that knowing where food is produced would be a Good Thing, but food companies say they can’t do it and raise all kinds of objections (too complicated, too expensive, not enough room on food labels, leave us alone).  Congress, sympathetic, left lots of loopholes. Consumers Union’s new guide to the new law tells you “what’s COOL and what’s not.”   CU’s press release summarizes the many exemptions: ham, bacon, roasted peanuts, anything sold in butcher shops or fish markets, mixed vegetables, trail mixes, and so forth..  As far as I can tell, nobody paid much attention to fish COOL so it will be interesting to see whether these new rules work better.  Keep asking!

Feb 13 2008

Country-of-origin labels: voluntary?

Unless Congress does something weird, Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) will go into effect this spring. Apparently, some companies are already doing it. I’m traveling this week and bought a little packet of Snak Club Tropical Mix at an airport news stand, thinking that it would be mostly raisins and peanuts, which it mostly was. The COOL was an unexpected bonus although I hardly know what to make of it: “Product of U.S.A., may contain ingredients from Thailand and/or Phillipines [sic] and/or Mexico and/or China and/or Chile and/or Argentina.” Somehow, I’m guessing that this is not what proponents of COOL had in mind, exactly.

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