ACOL damns US government report

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Related tags: Origin labelling, Food standards agency, Food, Usda

The Americans for Country of Origin Labelling (ACOL) organisation
has lambasted a US government report which is said to make over
inflated cost estimates for the implementation of new labelling

The Americans for Country of Origin Labelling (ACOL) organisation has lambasted a US government report which is said to make over inflated cost estimates for the implementation of new labelling procedures.

In the report the USDA claimed that the labelling initiative could cost the industry as much as €2 billion to implement.

ACOL claims that government cost estimates about new origin labeling practices for produce, meats and fish are grossly inflated, lack factual support and ignore the benefits to food security and heightened response to outbreaks of food-borne illness.

The report, issued by the United States Department of Agriculture, is said to make sweeping, unfounded assumptions regarding the number of participants and the costs associated with simple record keeping and inventory procedures. Further, the USDA study is said to fail to account for food origin labelling already required in several states, and accounting and inventory practices already conducted by the food industry, many of which are mandated by USDA itself.

"In crafting this report, USDA ignored record keeping that producers, food handlers and retailers already practice to comply with government rules," said Ray Gilmer, director of public affairs at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. "We've long advocated a simple, common sense approach to ensuring consumers have this information, using existing systems whenever possible. USDA's assumptions in this report don't match the reality of what is already practiced in the industry."

Florida's existing labelling law, which served as a template for the 2002 federal labelling provisions, is estimated to cost 1 to 2 man-hours a week per store to implement, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. ACOL claims that the Florida labelling, in place for more than 20 years, allows consumers to make more informed choices about the foods they buy, and benefits retailers by enhancing customer satisfaction.

Currently country of origin labelling is already mandatory in six other US states, where costs of implementation is said by ACOL to be minimal.

The USDA estimate differs considerably from conclusions of both the General Accounting Office (GAO) and another USDA agency, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). GAO, in a 2000 report, concluded country of origin labelling for beef and lamb would increase costs for both industry and government but that "the magnitude of these costs is uncertain.​" Likewise, in another 2000 report, FSIS, while acknowledging there may be additional costs for country of origin labeling of beef and lamb, said those costs "may not exceed what is now being spent on federal inspection."

"USDA inspectors are already present in our nation's meat plants, and all imported meat must already carry country of origin labels at the packing level,"​ said Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA, a cattle producer association. "Beef plants segregate carcasses according to grade, and that labelling is retained at retail. How much more could it cost to pass along the origin information with the grade label?"

ACOL claims that regardless of the cost estimates, the USDA report does not account for the benefits the new country of origin labelling will provide for the US food chain. It says that such labelling is already enforced by most major US trading partners and that the benefits to sanitation and general safety themselves justify the implementation of the system.

Starting September 2004, the labelling provisions passed by Congress in the 2002 farm bill would require produce, peanuts, meats and fish to be labelled in stores, indicating country of origin. Survey have so far shown that consumer support country of origin labelling, and that many are unaware that imported food is sold in their supermarkets.

"The report exaggerates the costs of implementing this program, while totally ignoring the benefits to American consumers, farmers and ranchers,"​ said National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson. "By implementing this program in a bureaucratic-laden manner and overestimating the cost, the administration could derail one of the most beneficial programs contained in the new farm bill."

In Europe similar moves are being made to increase the implementation of country of origin labelling. The UK government body, Food Standards Agency, only last month announced formal guidelines for UK food retailers and manufacturers to abide by tougher country of origin labelling. The FSA has been pressurising the European Commission to introduce tougher country of origin labelling, and has tried to set a president by introducing the guidelines for the UK industry.

The European Commission is currently considering new, stricter directive for country of origin labelling.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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