Vilsack cancels COOL call, plans to issue letter to meat industry
By Tom Johnston on 2/18/2009
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday called off a scheduled press teleconference on the final rule for mandatory country-of-origin labeling due to a scheduling conflict, but is expected to issue today a letter to the meat industry regarding his views on the subject, a USDA spokesman confirmed to Meatingplace.
Media reports quoted participants in a separate conference call Tuesday between Vilsack and consumer groups as saying the secretary expressed his intention to ask the meat industry to voluntarily follow more stringent guidelines under COOL, and that if the industry does not comply, the administration would write new rules.
For Immediate Release Contact: Shae Dodson, Communications Coordinator
February 18, 2009 Phone: 406-672-8969; e-mail: email@example.com
Group Strongly Supports Secretary Vilsack’s
Call for Changes to Final COOL Rule
Billings, Mont. – On Tuesday, at the invitation of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard participated in a conference call with the Secretary, along with representatives of the National Farmers Union, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, Food & Water Watch and the American Farm Bureau Federation, to address problems with loopholes in the final mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule, originally scheduled to take effect in March.
Today, R-CALF USA wishes to thank Vilsack for contemplating issuing a letter to the industry, asking participants to comply with Congress’ intent when it wrote the law, and specifically to correct the following three issues:
* The use of a mixed-origin label on meat from U.S. animals does not provide the specific information that Congress intended to provide to consumers.
* The exemption of commodities from labeling requirements because they had been cooked, roasted or cured does not comply with Congress’ intent to inform consumers of the origins of the food they purchase.
* The provision that allows meat processors to include a country’s name on ground meat even when no product is sourced from that country for 60 days does not provide accurate information to consumers as Congress intended.
Secretary Vilsack said he has two choices to correct these deficiencies: 1) start a whole new rulemaking process, which would mean that these problems would persist until a new rulemaking could be completed (this could take five to seven months); or, 2) issue an official directive to the industry to immediately correct these problems.
“We are extremely pleased that Secretary Vilsack recognizes that the final COOL rule does not meet the intent of the COOL law passed by Congress and also that he realizes his responsibility is to implement the COOL law as passed by Congress, not to make a new law in the rulemaking process,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.
“Secretary Vilsack asked R-CALF USA and the other participants for their input on the two options based on his belief that the problems in the COOL rule could be corrected much quicker by informing the industry that if they don’t immediately comply, a new rulemaking would immediately be initiated,” he continued. “The Secretary believes the industry will want to comply with his request, and R-CALF USA agrees that if the industry does comply, then consumers would be provided accurate labels sooner than if a new rulemaking were initiated as the only solution.
“We hope that industry participants will honor the requests of Secretary Vilsack to provide accurate COOL labels to consumers at the earliest date possible,” Bullard emphasized.
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALF USA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALF USA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALF USA has dozens of affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit http://www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.
VILSACK ANNOUNCES IMPLEMENTATION OF COUNTRY OF ORIGIN LABELING LAW
WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the final rule for the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) program will go into effect as scheduled on March 16th. He also released a letter inviting stakeholders to follow additional voluntary labeling practices. The rule, published in the Federal Register on Jan.15, 2009, has been under regulatory review by USDA pursuant to a Jan. 20, 2009, memorandum from the President's Chief of Staff.
"I strongly support Country of Origin Labeling - it's a critical step toward providing consumers with additional information about the origin of their food," said Vilsack. "The Department of Agriculture will be closely reviewing industry compliance with the rule and will evaluate the practicality of the suggestions for voluntary action in my letter."
During the regulatory review process, Secretary Vilsack determined that allowing the rule to go into effect and carefully monitoring implementation and compliance by retailers and their suppliers would provide the best avenue to evaluate the program. This evaluation period will inform the Secretary's consideration of whether additional rulemaking may be necessary to provide consumers with adequate information.
The COOL regulation requires country of origin labeling for muscle cuts and ground beef (including veal), pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng sold by designated retailers. These commodities must be labeled at retail to indicate the country of origin.
The final rule outlines requirements for labeling covered commodities and the recordkeeping requirements for retailers and suppliers. The rule prescribes specific criteria that must be met for a commodity to bear a "United States Country of Origin" declaration. The rule also contains provisions for labeling covered commodities of foreign origin.
For complete information on the COOL statute and regulation, go to http://www.ams.usda.gov/cool.
Johnson, Enzi Praise Sec Vilsack's Efforts to Revisit COOL Rule
USAgNet - 02/25/2009
U.S. Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota and U.S. Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming commended Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's decision to give the Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) rule some real teeth and strengthen the rule to reflect what Congress intended.
Johnson and Enzi have been long-time advocates of COOL and have been vocal about changes needed in the rule to reflect the intent of Congress. Secretary Vilsack called both Johnson and Enzi this week to discuss his decision to revisit the final COOL rule issued by former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, saying it did not follow the intent or letter of the COOL law passed by Congress. Johnson and Enzi led an effort with 30 of their colleagues to address the flawed rule with former Agriculture Secretary Ed Schaefer in September 2008, and reignited their bipartisan efforts with Secretary Vilsack once he was sworn in.
Vilsack announced that he will ask the meat industry to give consumers a more accurate picture by only labeling products as U.S. meat if they are from livestock that are born, raised and slaughtered in this country. If industry does not comply, Vilsack has announced he will initiate a new rule making process.
"The EU already has a far more stringent labeling program than the one intended by Congress. COOL clearly isn't a trade problem. It's a consumer right-to-know issue. The final rule proposed by Secretary Schafer left holes big enough to drive through. That's why Secretary Vilsack's efforts here today are so important for farmers, ranchers and consumers," Johnson said.
"Senator Johnson and I helped write the original COOL language in the 2002 Farm Bill. We know what we intended but unfortunately the USDA has spent years fiddling with the language and twisting the intent of the law to pander to packers. I applaud Secretary Vilsack for taking the reins and putting some enforcement and purpose behind the rule. Americans should be able to choose American products by common sense labels that tell them where their food originated and where it was processed," said Enzi.
The three main problems Johnson and Enzi raised with Secretaries Vilsack and Schafer in the final rule, which Vilsack agrees with and is taking action to address, include:
-- USDA allowed for U.S. exclusive origin meat products to be labeled with multiple countries of origin, also retaining the option for retailers to label bulk cases of meat with signs that don't separate out U.S. product.
-- USDA's definition of processed products and consequential exclusion of a significant number of food items was significant. Cooked chicken meat or peas mixed with carrots in a vegetable mix both are examples of "processed products" under the final rule.
-- USDA allowed processors to use a label for up to 60 days after a meat product of a certain origin is no longer in a processor's inventory. While intended to provide "wiggle room" for the production chain, the net effect may be gross abuse of the "U.S. origin" label.
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