WASHINGTON, DC— Congressman Randy Neugebauer signed onto legislation Wednesday that would establish a voluntary country-of-origin labeling (V-COOL) program for domestic meat producers, processors, and retailers.

The Meat Promotion Act of 2005, H.R. 2068, was written by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and has already gathered 33 cosponsors, including Neugebauer.

“Chairman Goodlatte’s bill provides a flexible and voluntary marketing tool for American ranchers, processors, and retailers,” Neugebauer said. “Should they feel that it is in their best interest to use country-of-origin labels, the Meat Promotion Act allows them to do so in a way that best fits their operations. However, if they conclude that this labeling is too burdensome or too costly, then they can choose to participate in USDA’s program.”

The proposed mandatory COOL program has raised many concerns among producers, processors, suppliers, and retailers because it adds excessive costs, while not enhancing meat safety or quality. Goodlatte’s bill comes in response to the call for a voluntary program that is market driven, recognizes existing labeling programs, minimizes record-keeping, allows flexibility and is cost-effective.

Under Goodlatte’s legislation, compliance with the COOL provisions enacted in the 2002 Farm Bill would no longer be mandatory. Farmers, ranchers, and retailers would decide whether they want to label their products to indicate the country in which they were produced. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be required to create a unique label that retailers could use for designating country-of-origin.

“Country-of-origin labeling is a marketing tool, not a food safety program,” Neugebauer said. “The federal government should leave marketing decisions up to ranchers, retailers and other private businesses.”

Participants in the program will be required to maintain records that will enable USDA to verify compliance with the terms of the program. Violators of the program, such as anyone who labels meat that has not been born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. as having U.S. country-of-origin status, are subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

The National Cattleman’s Beef Association, the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, the Texas Farm Bureau, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers, and the National Pork Producers have all endorsed this legislation.